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'Take Me to the Box of Bugs!'—On Children, Composting and the Future of the Planet
Sunday, 01 July 2012 00:00  |  Written by Rick Theis | Blog Entry

Compost Heap photo by Alan LevineOne summer afternoon, when my nephew Michael was 3 or 4, he came for a visit. We were going to camp out in the backyard that night, but had made no plans for earlier in the day.

I lived in a huge house with a mini TV studio, office, organic vegetable garden, flower garden, an attic full of stuff left by the previous owner, as well as piano, cat, old silent films, antique car, oil paints and canvases, etc., so there was plenty of fun to be had. When he arrived, I reminded him that he'd been there before and knew most of the options. "So, what do you want to do?," I asked.

He thought for a moment, but only a moment. Then his eyes lit up and he said, "I want to see the box of bugs."

This took me by surprise. I knew everything I owned and had previously owned, and a box of bugs was definitely not among them. In fact, of the many fun things we'd ever done together, I didn't recall there ever having been a box of bugs involved. So I continued my interrogation.

"Michael, I'm not sure what you mean," I said.

"You know... the box... with all the... bugs in it."

"Tell me more about this box."

"There's a box you have... where there are, um... lots of bugs."

"Can you give me more detail?"

"You know, lots of bugs in this box you have."

My questioning went on awhile, but I was getting nowhere. He kept rearranging his words, but not adding any information.

So I decided on a masterful plan to get to the bottom of his request. "Do you know where the box of bugs is?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered to my relief.

"Great, Michael! Then take me to the box of bugs!"

But instead of walking to the front door and going in, as I expected, he jumped off the porch and started running toward the backyard, past the vegetable garden, past the flower garden and toward the garage housing my antique car. Then he stopped and pointed at my compost heap.

"Here, your box of bugs!" he said, sounding frustrated and puzzled that I had forgotten I owned such a big, obvious, wonderful, interesting thing.

Then I recalled that when I'd given Michael a tour of my (then new) place a few months earlier, I'd shown him the compost heap and explained to him, in simple terms, how it worked. I told him that we saved our vegetable table-scraps and other plant waste, like grass clippings, then piled them inside a rough wooden frame I'd created. The matter decomposed with the help of worms, bugs and microorganisms. Heat was created, which helped break down the material faster. Eventually it turned into rich, fertilized soil that helped our organic garden grow.

Michael and I poked around in the compost heap with sticks looking for bugs, and we did see a few. Then we moved on to other adventures.

This memory illustrates the natural curiosity of children and their unique perspective on the world. For me, it also prompts one happy and one sad thought: It's wonderful how well kids take to nature if given the chance, yet it's unfortunate that our modern society keeps them so separated from nature and the wonder she so easily evokes in them.

By teaching children about ecology and putting them back in touch with the natural world, we can help bring society full circle.

For millennia, humans lived in harmony with nature. Then they tried to subdue her—losing many fellow species, wasting much of their inherited natural-resource wealth, marring her beauty and nearly destroying themselves in the process. But for the past generation or so, there has been a movement toward regaining our accord with nature, the generous mother who always provides for those in tune with her rhythms.

What is encouraging about this arc from harmony to disharmony and back is that the ongoing, out-of-sync part has been extremely short-lived compared with what went before. Admittedly, the great destruction we've caused during this recent period belies the relatively small amount of time involved. However, this ruinous era may turn out to have been just a brief aberration. And someday it may even be looked upon as fortunate, in that it has been a wake-up call that has greatly heightened our environmental awareness and hopefully been the beginning of the end of our assualt upon our planet.

Children are one key to powering this return to the natural. They will be the voters, consumers and decision-makers of tomorrow. And their actions will follow their attitudes.

By setting a good example and taking the time to talk with our kids about nature, we can be like the microbes, worms and bugs in my "box of bugs," which turn vegetable waste into rich, nourishing soil. But it will not be normal soil we create; not soil that aids a few organic plants to grow. Instead, it will be human soil/soul that nourishes and protects the biggest, most beautiful, most bountiful organic garden of them all—our Earth.

Additional resources:
How to Compost and Build a Compost Heap
Going Wild: How to Enjoy Nature With Your Kids—Wherever You Live
Backyard Biodiversity: How to Set Up Your Own Nature Reserve

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Comments (1)add
Written by Derek VanDyke , October 24, 2012
Composting is a great classroom activity. As a former educator this was always part of my curriculum along with raising salmon from eggs. Great way to teach the life cycle and the importance of systems. We need more classrooms to connect youth to the environment. Thank you.
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