Getting Dirty With Author Chris McLaughlin!

It should come as no surprise that kids love dirt. And given the chance — WORMS! Wiggly, squiggly wonderful worms. So, I was thrilled when author Chris McLaughlin wanted to stop by TGSG on her #gotcompost book tour.

You can do this Composting in a Bucket activity with a class, an after-school group or your own family! No rules — just worms!

To keep the fun and learning going, read the charming book,  Diary of a Worm with your kids.

See ya outside! ~ The Grass Stain Guru

Chris_bookDepending on the age of the child, composting has many lessons to teach.

Older children can learn about such things as the life cycle, death and decomposition, resource management, and the state of our garbage and landfills. They also learn about biodegradable and non-biodegradable items and how this affects recycling and renewal for the earth.

Younger children can work on fine motor skills, observation skills and making the connection between the earth and food, versus food and the grocery store! They can also work on turn-taking, sequencing, and counting and color recognition.

Not to mention the dirt. The dirt, of course, is the best part of composting. The kids get to put their hands in dirt, make compost piles, play with worms, and analyze what they eat and throw away.

While this activity is written for a class or group of children, you can easily do this as a family activity. From one child to 40 — composting rocks!

Bucket Compost in the Classroom

If you don’t have the opportunity to build a compost pile outside with your students, bring the compost pile into the classroom in a bucket.

Materials needed:

  • Compostable materials — a mix of both browns and greens
  • 5-gallon bucket with a lid
  • 1 gallon of finished compost
  • Water
  • Garden trowel for mixing
  • Small tarp for under bucket


Browns =  carbons like dried leaves, straw, newspaper, sawdust, toilet paper rolls, shredded documents.

Greens = Nitrogen like grass clippings, vegetable trimmings, animal manure (herbivores), coffee grounds, alfalfa meal, green leaves.

If you’re worried that the food will get smelly in a small classroom, just start from scratch and begin with non-food ingredients such as yard clippings, paper, and the like.


1.  To begin this project, have students write down a random list of greens or browns they can bring from home.

To keep odors down, it’ll work in your favor if you add more browns than greens. It’ll compost slower, but because you’ll be composting indoors, it’s better to err on the side of carbon than too much nitrogen.

2.  Have the students add browns and greens (remember: more browns than greens) until the bucket is about half full.

3.  Now add a gallon of finished compost to act as an activator. If you don’t have access to finished compost, add sawdust or potting soil.

4.  Keep the materials inside moist, but not truly wet. Have the students write down some predictions such as how long it will take to decompose, what they think it’ll smell like while it’s decomposing, and if they think they’ll find things growing in it.

5.  Every few days, open up the bucket and mix the ingredients. Don’t do it more often than this because the microbial decomposers need to settle a bit to break things down.

6.  Every two weeks have the students look and observe what’s happening inside the compost bucket. Have them record their observations.

7. As a class, take the compost to a planter box or landscape area on the school grounds and place it underneath the plants.

chris.Author Bio: Chris McLaughlin is a life-long lover of nature and avid gardener. She received her Master Gardener certification in 2000, and writes for a variety of publications and websites. In addition to The Complete Idiots Guide to Composting, she recently completed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables (Penguin/December 2010). You can follow this fabulous green thumb on Twitter @Suburban_Farmer.

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