Getting’ Dirty

Here’s a short and sweet lesson on soil and composting! This can be adapted well from 2nd grade all the way through high school, depending on how much students already know.

Start with the Earth Apple activity, which sets some great context for how little topsoil we have on Earth that we can actually grow food in. Then, ask students what they already know about the process of decomposition. Most students in upper elementary school will be familiar with the terms ‘producers’ (plants), ‘consumers’ (animals), and ‘decomposers’ (fungus, bacteria, invertebrates!). Explain that composting is just intentionally applying the natural process of decomposition to create soil more quickly from your food and garden scraps. Sing the ‘Compost Cake’ song from the Banana Slug String Band with younger students, to drive the point home. For older students, have them make short skits about how compost is created– it is hilarious to watch them pile on top of each other to simulate the compost pile.

Now that they know everything there is to know about compost, have students venture to your compost pile and use this worksheet to examine which organisms they are able to find. They are sure to find some truly creepy crawly bugs and gain a new appreciation for the ecosystem of living things in soil.

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For a boost in student engagement for an older class, introduce the idea of composting toilets! Host a debate– should we or shouldn’t we close the loop and start recycling our own waste to make soil? Actually, we wouldn’t be starting that practice– here’s a great article on the awesome ‘night soil’ dispersal systems the Chinese developed thousands of years ago.
-Ms. Carolyn, Educator