Today I thought that it would be worth thinking about compost! An increasing number of schools have compost heaps and they can be a great way to learn about decomposition, the needs of plants and the importance of recycling and caring for the environment.
However, there can be pit falls.
Pitfall 1: Ideally compost should be turned from time to time to mix the ingredients together and incorporate air. Just who has time to do this in school? Maybe if you have some enthusiastic Y6’s or an adult who is happy to spend an hour playing with the compost heap once in a while. However, there are many schools where there is no one available to turn the comost heap.
Solution: Even if a compost heap isn’t turned it will still rot down, only more slowly, so don’t worry if no one in your school wants to take on this job.
Pitfall 2: Compost heaps can attract vermin from rats to flies, especially if they are neglected (and lets face it they may well be neglected from time to time in a busy school).
Solution: Please don’t panic just because I said rats! The chances are that there are rats outside your school anyway. On the whole, in small numbers they will do us no harm and just want to keep themselves to themselves. However, it is important that we don’t provide places where they can hide from predators and breed! Avoid adding cooked food, especially meat to your compost. Also, immediately cover any vegetable peelings with weeds or grass and keep the lid on the compost bin. If your heap seems very dry try mixing in some grass clippings or get a watering can and water it. Even rats don’t like to live in soggy homes. However, don’t let the heap get too soggy or it will just go slimey and smelly instead of making lovely compost for your garden.
Pitfall 3: Especially at this time of year there is lots of kitchen waste (fruit peelings in school) and not much else. If you are not careful you end up with a slimy smelly fruity layer on top of the heap; yuck!
Solution: Try keeping a pile of ‘covering material’ by your bin. This might be weeds that you have pulled from your vegetable beds, long grass collected from around your field edge or shredded paper from your school office. Everytime you add a layer of fruit peel add a layer of weeds and/or paper. This will help to form a much more balanced heap and avoid attracting flies and wasps too. A well balanced heap should never get smelly.
Finally. Do make sure that you have a lid for your compost heap. It will help to keep the heat in and the flies out.
If you have some money to spend the book illustrated at the top of this post would be lovely to share with younger children. It has lovely illustrations and rhyming text. If I were still teaching an infant class I think that I would scan it into my interactive white board and plan a week’s literacy around it. I think that older children would enjoy and learn from it too.
Even if you don’ t buy the book the website is well worth a look. I think that KS2 children would love to learn more about worms by reading about Squirmin’ Herman. One of the other activities helps children to sort things that can be composted from those that can not. Learning about compost might well be an unusual take on changing materials. Observing a compost heap would be an opportunity to take part in an ‘observation over time‘ enquiry. Setting up a remote data logger in a freshly made heap could well prove dramatic as a well made compost becomes very hot indeed! A compost heap would also make an interesting micro-habitat for children to explore as they learned about ‘Animals including humans‘.
To finish here is a picture of a friendly robin on one of my compost bins. This one is actually being used to make leaf mould which is completely different to compost. Maybe I’ll write about it in the autumn.