Composting With Kids

The Challenge: Delegating Mom’s composting duties to her two daughters and son for three weeks. The Family: Christina and Michael Cush, of Darien, Connecticut, and their daughter, Piper, 12, and twins, Thomas and Remy, 9.

Fielding excuses

It’s been four years since we bought an outdoor composting box, which we started using after my older daughter’s class did a project on the topic. My husband and kids were enthusiastic to begin, but over the years, I’ve become the default composter. As a part-time working mom, I often do chores around the house myself just to move things along. But having recently started a new business—which has put more responsibility on my plate—I was desperate to delegate some household duties. This eco-task seemed like a good place to start. Though my kids will come home from school impassioned after an environmental lesson, their interest invariably wanes. With this challenge, I hoped to show them that it’s important to get (and stay) involved—it’s their future Earth, after all.

Making a plan

Over dinner, I told the kids about the challenge. Rather than whine (I envisioned: “Gross” or “Why do I have to?”), they were reluctantly on board. They already understood the basics of what can and can’t be composted (eggshells yes, chicken bones no), so it was important that they know when it was their turn to help. Since I’m not a make-a-chart kind of mom, I asked the kids to work on a fair schedule. My older daughter took the first week, my son the second, and my younger daughter the third.

Seeing growth

Using our undersink metal composting can (with charcoal filters to zap odor), the first week began. My husband’s only request was that the kids churn the outdoor pile with a pitchfork to help it break down. It was Piper’s turn, and she preferred using a long stick. As we rolled into week two, there was some whining from the girls about schlepping the kitchen scraps across our yard to the compost pile. I understood. I’d done it many times in unpleasant weather and slippery conditions. But their brother was home sick, so they needed to step in. They decided that Remy would take Thomas’s shift. Later that week, the girls volunteered to help each other clean out their closets and put aside clothes that needed to be donated or become hand-me-downs. This act was unprecedented. Did they sense I was stressed about their brother? Were they realizing that it feels nice to help? Either way, they were definitely getting more into it.

Improving attitudes

By week three, my son was well enough to do his share. He rolled his eyes a few times when the scrap bucket was maxed out—and he also preferred that I not remind him to add the scraps to the outdoor pile and churn it when he was doing something fun. I promised I would be more patient and let him do it on his own.

Training Dad

Now that the kids were in the groove, we collaborated on getting my husband more accustomed to using the kitchen bucket. During week three, I picked his veggie scraps and eggshells from the garbage and plopped them in the compost bin. To re-educate their dad, the twins posted signs in the kitchen about what to compost. Since then, I’ve rescued fewer and fewer compostables out of the garbage.

My advice

School-age kids (and husbands!) are old enough to help around the house, especially when it comes to doing green chores. My brood was happier when we composted on their terms and they took charge by setting the schedule, researching online what’s compostable, and co-managing their dad. And I’m working on my end of the bargain: being more laid-back and letting the kids take the lead.