Composting with food scraps

The scraps are carefully laid out daily
on a tablecloth on the classroom floor.

Children take and bring back
scraps to work with: onions, carrots…

We gather with the food scraps during morning meetings and throughout the rest of the day.

We need to keep the scraps close so we can keep our eye on them“, says Laura

At the end of each week a small group of children gather the food scraps by carefully folding the tablecloth. Once the scraps are collected in the cloth package, they carry it down the stairs and toward the waiting bin.

Moving the scraps off the
tablecloth is not an easy task.

“Eww , wiggly, wiggly” – Cory

As children dump the food scraps onto the growing pile, the scraps become living compost that changes week after week.
The scraps change each day. Their look, feel, and smell becomes a topic of conversation.

Eww , yuck it’s on my hand; it’s all
slimy and squishy
.” – Amy
Eww , it smells disgusting.” – Cory
I don’t want to touch them. They
smell really yucky
.” Eric

The children decide to draw a line at the top of each new layer to keep track of the changes.

They soon notice liquid at the bottom of the bin and green and white mould on the top.

After a few weeks the bin is too full and too smelly to keep inside. We invite the children to create an outdoor compost bin.

The new outdoor compost bin arrives in one big box with a picture of the composter visible on the outside of the box. Before construction of the bin starts, we converse about building a new, bigger home for the scraps to live in.

Carefully following the instructions, we match each piece with the next and then attach it to another. The bin takes shape.

It says, ‘you gotta build that and then you gotta put those on it.” – Amy

Setting the box down on the floor, we quickly open it and remove all the pieces, carefully spreading each one onto
the floor.

Let’s see what this matches. Does someone want to match with me?” – Jacob
The big ones are the side. I have a big one.” – Amy
We can build it with screws.” – Jacob
If we look at the instructions, we will know what it is.” – Amy

The process takes the children most of the day, offering ideas and attempting different methods of fitting the pieces together.

Once the composter is assembled, we turn our curiosity to how it functions. The children notice the small holes around the outside, a lid that can be opened and shut, and an entrance at the bottom that they can crawl into.

They embody the process of
entering and exiting the bin.

We further explore children’s curiosities around the bin design. With pencils and paper, the children continue to think about the lines and holes of the bin.

Christian crawls in and shouts:
Close the lid!”
How will you get out?”, – asks Becka (educator)
We can get out through these
tiny holes
”, – Amy answers.

The holes are for us to see the food scraps.” – Megan
The bugs use the holes to get out of the compost bin.” – Daisy
The small little square holes are used by the ants to go in to get to the food scraps.” – Amy

The children follow their drawing designs
to build the compost bin with wooden blocks.

They pay close attention to their drawings and the image of the composter projected on the wall. As the building gets underway, a debate emerges about whether to begin with the horizontal lines or the vertical lines.

We need it flat.” – Jacob

My idea is to make it tall.” -Megan

I see the parts, the lines straight, so that means it’s flat (horizontal).” – Jacob

I’m trying to build this line,” Megan shares as she points to the vertical lines of the bin.

Jacob points to the tall sides of the compost bin and we add the sides.

Once the tall sides are complete, we work on the horizontal lines that Jacob pointed out.

In the meantime, the compost bin is placed outdoors. Collectively, we decide to put it in our outdoor space in a location that has access to sun and that isn’t too wet.

“On the grass and the mud.”
– Julia
“In the middle of the grass. And put carrots in it.” – Jacob

Each week we move a large bucket of food scraps into the black compost bin.

The weekly routine of carrying the food scraps from the classroom to the compost bin gets disrupted. The smell wafting from the composter gets stronger and stronger. The overpowering order stinks up our outdoor space.

We decide on a location across the parking lot and to the right of the centre’s dumpster. To move the composter to its new location, we must first empty out all of the food scraps and then deconstruct it. Piece by piece we carry everything to the new home and begin the reconstruction process.

With each visit to the compost bin, we notice how the food scraps are changing.

I think the garbage truck is taking
our food scraps. There’s some
missing.
” – Cory
Oh gross, it stinks!” – Amy
There’s bugs all over! Well,
spiders are gross, and the compost
smells gross, so that must be why
he is in there
.” – Amy

With much discussion over how the bugs get in and out of the compost bin, we return to the compost bin to take a closer look.

I think the compost makes the bugs” – Amy

If the bugs are in there, how are the bugs gonna get out?” – Jennifer

They get out from the small little holes” -Amy

No, they get out through the bottom” -Cory

The bottom is the road so if the bugs go out the bottom, the bugs will get trapped. The only way to get out is the
top
” – Jennifer

The ants can get out ’cause they have legs” – Tommy

If we brought a rope with us maybe we can throw the rope into the hole and toss it down and they will crawl up the rope through the little hole and they can be free” -Jennifer

How about when the ants want to get out, we get a butterfly, and they can fly the ants out” -John

I saw an ant go out these holes!” – Cory
Oh, I see an ant in them! Guys, I just saw an ant in the compost!” – John
We follow the ant as it travels over various food scraps, naming where it moves as we watch.
It’s on our onion scraps! There’s two of them. Actually three. There’s four. I think they’re trying to find their way back to the bottom.” – John
I see one on the orange peel there!” – Cory

Stories from the
compost bin

We draw with pencil and paper to tell the story of the bugs and food scraps inside the composter.

When the garbage man sees the ant, he will pick it up with his hand and put it
in the compost bin.” – Amy

We have to help the ants get out, so they get back to their moms and dads.” – Megan

The garbage truck takes them
back to their home.” – Amy

The flying bugs in the compost bin take on the identity of poison bugs and at first appear to be the protagonists in our story…

These are the poison bugs, and these are not poison ants.” – Cory

The poison bugs are gonna get the ants and then they will turn into poison bugs.” – Amy

When one of the children asks how we can help, the plot shifts as Amy draws a long line through the picture and exclaims: “I will stop them!

How does that stop them?”, asks Daisy.“

“That stops them because they are turning, and this line will block them away. I need to draw a path, then they can’t get out. They’re stuck because these ones are safe.” – Amy

“I am going to draw an X so the bugs can’t get in this X. I’m gonna draw a X here so they can’t go. I draw an X that says STOP.” – Cory

That’s the leader and the leader is really strong, so it’s going to pull away the door and go through and go to the ants.” – Amy

There’s so many poison bugs! They’re everywhere! “They’re coming from the leader!” – Amy

They want to eat the ants. They’re
gonna go into their tummies and turn into poison bugs. I’m worried about this, so I want to go back to the compost
.” – Amy

As the story continues, the children decide that they need another trip to the compost bin.

After we revisit the compost bin, we bring the poison bugs out of the story to think with them more closely. We pay attention to what they look like, how they move, and what it might mean to turn ants into poison ants.

They have poison water in their tummies, and when the ants go in there, they turn to poison.” – Amy
Amy suggests that for the ants to get the poison: “The poison bugs breathe their breath out and they go into their tummy.”
The children begin to sketch the poison, but…
They have wings.” – Cory
They have five legs, so if they don’t want to fly, they can walk, and they have ears to call to the ants.” – Amy
They use their wings to talk to each other.” – Cory

Thin, pliable wire invites the children to attend to the individual piece in the emerging story of the poison bug.

The children’s fingers bend, twist, and mold intricate pieces to create the multidimensional wire sculpture.

The poison bug is shaped to hold the poison water and tiny ant.

The poison bug has a food scrap from the compost bin that it plays with, as well as hands and fingers to hold it.