Lessons from the Compost Heap

compstA compost heap is so much more than just a bunch of garbage.

If you are homeschooling, your pile of waste products can easily be transformed into a cherished curriculum container.

Composting teaches kids about nature’s life cycle.  The simple and affordable project gives children an up close look at how decay gives rise to new life.  What’s more, that mound of trash is also a hotbed for hands-on science lessons.

For starters you can school your students on the make-up of soil.  Dirt is composed of air, water, minerals (including sand, silt and clay) and organic matter.  The last ingredient is worth a closer look.  The organic materials in soil include decaying plant matter and living creatures.  Have your kids scoop up some of the fresh dirt and examine it under a microscope.  They are likely to see millions of happy microorganisms living and working together to create healthy soil.

According to leading microbiologists, an acre of fertile soil can house nearly 1000 pounds of earthworms, 2,500 pounds of fungi, 1,600 pounds of good bacteria and 900 pounds of arthropods and algae.

As an easy composting experiment, assign your children the task of checking the soil’s composition.  Begin by giving each kid a clean, clear jelly jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Next, have each child spoon soil into his jar until it is filled about one-third of the way.  Then, add water until the jar is nearly full, screw on the lid and shake vigorously, so the soil and water mix thoroughly.  After shaking the jars, place them in a cool dry area overnight.  The next day, students can observe the mixture.  They should see that the sand (the largest mineral particle) sank to the bottom of the jar.  The sand should have a layer of silt sitting on it, followed by a layer of clay.  Meanwhile, the organic matter should have floated to the surface of the water.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.