Having students that range in age from 6 to 18 isn’t always easy, especially from a planning standpoint. However, there are often times when a particular age group is perfectly suited for a task that children of another age may not want or be able to accomplish.
Worm care happens to tap right into the natural curiosity of small children. (In a previous post, A worm as a muse, I introduced some of the ways our students were learning and benefiting from vermicomposting.) Younger children generally don’t have as many inhibitions about handling worm castings (or “poop” in the younger vernacular) as older students. Let’s face it, what 6 to 8 year old doesn’t want the chance to talk about poop in a setting endorsed by teacher? Okay, there are some, but trust me, not many.
In the summer, the greenhouse where our collection of red wrigglers normally reside, can become an inferno. Keeping this in mind, we moved the worm bin in June to the garden and placed it in a shady spot. The top of the bin has small vents to allow the circulation of air, but with all the rain we’ve gotten, the bin has become a bit wet. Controlling the moisture level of the worm bin is very important as worms breath through their skin. Additionally, too much moisture in the bin can lead to dangerously low oxygen or anaerobic conditions which can also result in a moldy environment. Stink-o-rama!
On a sunny day, I spread a tarp on the ground for a few elementary age classes. Everyone received a large handful of what looks like wet dirt and a plastic cup. I asked the students to sort through the mixture they received, which included some remains of food scraps (mostly things like avocado pits and tomato stems which take longer to break down), worms, cocoons and lots of castings. The students picked out the tiny lemon-shaped cocoons with great delicacy and accuracy, along with worms of varying sizes. Red wrigglers never get to be as big as earthworms and there were many babies in this tier of the bin, some as small as a thread. Exercises like this help to build patience and focus, as well as improved fine motor skills. The students’ attention to detail and the care they showed for these worms was a beautiful sign of their nurturing abilities.
After we harvested the castings, which we will use to fertilize our container plants, the students used the hose, some sponges and a little elbow grease to rinse out the tier that we had concentrated on. We then added our worms back, along with some of the food scraps that still held some interest for the worms, some fresh greens from the garden that the kids picked and lot of new shredded newspaper. For the one or two students that didn’t want to get up close and personal with the worms, they were able to help by shredding sections of newspaper into thin strips. This newspaper helps to control moisture, creates a cooling blanket of darkness for the worms to live under and acts as a carbon source for the worm bin, as well.
These 2nd through 4th graders did an amazing job caring for our worms and keeping their living environment a healthy, productive place. Spending 45 minutes marveling over a bin of worms in a picnic-like fashion was pretty engaging for all of us. Not only are the students interested in taking care of our worms, but this type of activity also allows us to work more closely as a group. As the caregiver side is brought out of each one of us, there is a grounded energy that allowed me to see a different side of some of my students. Who knew that worms could offer so much to our experiences?