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Back to Nature:
Investigating Trash

Try this little experiment to help young children understand the idea that some trash decomposes (goes back to nature) while some does not. Explain that trash items that do not decompose pile up on Earth.

  • Gather several clay or plastic flower pots. Cover the drainage hole in each with a small stone.
  • Let children fill the pots about 1/3 full of potting soil.
  • Next, let children wear plastic gloves to break apart pieces of trash such as food scraps, plastic from a baggie, foil, paper, and polystyrene foam. (Keep a list of the things that students break apart.)
  • Scatter the litter over the soil in the pot.
  • Then cover the litter with potting soil until the pot is almost full.
  • Sprinkle water over the soil until damp -- do not soak.
  • Cover each pot with plastic wrap held in place with a rubber band.
  • Place pots in a warm, dark place such as a closet or in a covered box.
  • Check the pots periodically to moisten.

In about four weeks, dump the contents of each pot onto a newspaper. Let children wear plastic gloves and use a stick to investigate the soil. Ask Which things decomposed, or went back into the dirt? Which things did not? How can we reduce the amount of waste that fills up landfills?



Find more activities for early childhood classrooms in these archives:


Sue LaBella, Education World's early childhood editor, is a former teacher who loves writing activities and poems for young children. She lives in Connecticut with her family and her bulldog named Daisy.

Activities by Sue LaBella
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