A bucket of worms! Teaching kids about food waste and composting

How do you get children thinking about where their food comes from – and where it goes if we throw it in the bin? We recently headed down to a local primary school to do just that…

I hold the bucket close to my chest.

“You’ll need to be very gentle”, I say to the year 5 class. “Because they don’t like to be disturbed.”

At the idea of a “they” in my bucket, the children’s interest is peaked. They all crowd around me, trying to see what’s inside.

It seems rumours have spread from the other classroom, where I first ran this workshop. “I know what’s inside!” shouts one. “There are worms, and they’re eating food waste!”

Some of the children recoil in disgust, with cries of “eww!” and “it smells bad!”

The worm farm actually smells pleasantly earthy, but the power of their imagination seems to have conjured up some putrid odours…

A peek inside the worm farm

As some of the children look inside, the more reluctant ones are convinced to take a look.

“Aww, they’re cute!” Says one little girl.

“I am quite fond of them,” I admit.

I explain that this is a mini ‘worm farm’ where the worms do a wonderful job of recycling my food waste. In the same way we can recycle metal, plastic and paper into new things, composting is nature’s way of recycling materials like food waste and autumn leaves into compost.

Nature’s recyclers

I get them to sniff a pot of mouldy tomatoes (this one DOES smell) and guess why it smells. Eventually they guess that there are bacteria inside eating the tomatoes and breaking it down. As they do it, they release smelly gases. Yes, children, those smells are basically bacteria farts!

We talk about how bacteria, worms and other tiny creatures out in nature can be thought of as ‘nature’s recyclers’. They do an incredibly important job of turning dead materials into compost, which is full of nutrients and beneficial creatures which feed the soil and living plants!

We head outside for the soil investigation!

Magnifying glasses in hand, the children head out to the forest school area to carefully look under wooden logs, leaf litter and stones to see these recycling bugs closer up. I explain that these creatures are in their homes, and we are disturbing them, so we should be very gentle with them and put everything back as it was afterwards.

Soon, everyone is busy investigating. It’s amazing to see how excited they get about this. Even the kids who are afraid of bugs are soon running over to tell me they’ve found a family of slugs under a log.

Time to make rot pots!

Next, we get to making ‘rot pots’. The children fill old plastic bottles with layers of compostable materials like vegetable scraps and grass clippings. These will sit on their classroom windowsills so that they can observe the decomposition process in real time. Making the rot pots gets pretty messy, and I am glad we set up the work station outdoors!

So what have we learned?

As we tidy up, a little boy comes up to me.

“Nature is cool.” He announces. “That’s what I’ve learned. And nature’s been around for a lot longer than humans have. We’ve been ruining it, but now we need to look after it.”

I smile, and tell him how glad I am to hear it.

Want us to visit your school?

We offer free workshops for Oxfordshire primary schools. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, we would be delighted to speak with you about delivering a workshop.

Feed bellies, not bins

We are increasingly disconnected from the food we eat. It can be hard to know about where our food comes from and how it was produced. The same goes for what happens to the food we waste after we throw it in the bin – and the impact this has on our planet.

Through our workshops in schools, we aim to make the invisible visible. We encourage the children to reconnect with where their food comes from, how we can avoid wasting it, and how we can deal with our waste responsibly. We help children to get involved in their own food supply chain by having a go at growing their own vegetables!

If you’d like to have a chat with us about running a workshop, please get in touch with our project coordinator Anaïs: anais@cagoxfordshire.org.uk

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