Kids: Discover Worms
We've had a worm composting bin in our office for more years than I can remember. It is an excellent way to teach children about the life cycles, decomposition, comparing body parts, and to learn about the benefits for plants. Kids learn that by composting they care for their communities and the natural environment. They are relatively simple animals to keep alive, and provide the added benefit of producing compost. We have a youtube video showing some of the ideas below.
Two Ways To Teach With Worms
You can collect worms from your yard and so some quick comparison discoveries before you release them again. Or, if you keep a worm bin, you can study so much more. You can do longer term studies, such as how long does it take a worm to eat...?, or what do worms eat? If you would like to make your own worm bin, we have more information on our composting page.
One important point if you keep a worm bin, do NOT collect night crawlers from your yard. Night crawlers need deep burrows and do not like to be disturbed, which is a huge problem in a worm bin. They will either all die, or will escape. Instead, use red wigglers or manure worms. These little guys are much more adapted to life in a worm bin.
Anytime you handle a worm there are a few simple rules to follow:
Keep the worms skin damp. You can accomplish this by spraying water on a plate to let it move around on, or use a damp paper towel. Make sure to keep you hands damp if you hold a worm.
Make sure your hands are free of soaps and sanitizers.
Comparing Our Bodies: Same/Different
There are many questions you can ask your child:
What shapes can it make? Great question for younger children to look for familiar shapes such as circles, or letters and number.
Does it have bones? No, worms are invertebrates, they have no bones.
Look at the worms body? How does it move? Does it have legs? Worms do have muscles (worms might have no bones, but they do move by stretching and contracting their muscles. Watch https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/videos/3-physical-adaptations-for-life-underground
Can a worm see? Many fiction books and cartoons depict worms with eyes, however they don't have any. Even if they did, what would they be able to see as thy are pushing head first through the soil?
What senses does it have? Can it Hear?
Where does it live? we live in a habitat, but our habitat is different - Ask where would you find a worm?
What do worms need to live? We all need the same things to live (water, food, shelter, air, and space … if an environment provides this then it is a habitat. For the worms, their box is their habitat –show them the box-; for us our school and home and community are our habitat).
Investigate worms’ responses to light and touch stimulus.
Worms don't have eyes, however they can sense light/dark. For K/1 students ask them why this might be important [dark=underground=safer].
Have children predict the worms’ responses to light from a flashlight and to being gently touched with a chenille stem. Have them justify their predictions.
Place worms on a damp place and place a piece of paper over half to make it dark. Shine a flashlight directly onto the worms and observe their behaviors.
Gently touch the worms with a chenille stem that has a small loop at that end and observe their behaviors.
Investigate worms’ responses to barrier stimulus.
Have the children predict the worms’ responses to different barriers (a pencil, a clothespin, a block of wood, a crumbled piece of paper or a pile of soil, etc.). . Will they initially go around a barrier? Crawl over it? Burrow underneath it? Try to keep going forward? Go backwards? Will their responses differ for different barriers? Have the students justify their predictions.
Place worms on a damp surface and have the childs arrange three or four barriers on it.
Allow 5-10 minutes for the students to observe the worms’ behaviors. Have the students record their observations with an explanation for the worms’ behaviors.
Investigate worms food preferences
Have your child come up with a possible list of foods for worms and predict which the worms will eat quickest. Or have them cut one type of food into different sizes to see which decomposes first. Make sure to avoid food that are greasy/oily or high in salt as these will harm the worms.
Video - Worms At Work - 20 Days Time Lapse Of Vermicomposting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9Mnf9ysNSs&sns=em
Investigate the effect of the vermicompost on plant growth.
Once you have had your worm bin for a while, you will have vermicompost to experiment with. Try growing seeds with differing amounts of vermicompost added or adding different amounts of compost to plants growing in the garden.
Have your child predict which amounts of compost will produce the best results.
Observe changes in the plants for two to four weeks and have them use a tape measure to record growth.
Life Cycle of a Worm
Earthworms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female characteristics, so they can both fertilize and lay eggs. Eggs are contained in a sheath (clitellum )that slides off the worm after fertilization. The sheath becomes a cocoon that is deposited in the soil, where it hardened to protect the eggs inside.
You can purchase model sets for a worm life cycle showing each life stage.
Video -“Live Worm Birth” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huWOOOZY6RY
earthworm hatching (shows 3 worms coming out of a single egg). You can see how tiny the cacoon an baby worms are compared to the tip of a pen. Start the video about a minute in, if you have wiggly kids, as they don't hatch until about then.
Worm hatchlings emerge from their protective cocoon at different rates depending on the species, but the range is from three weeks to five months. Temperature and moisture also impact the amount of time it takes hatchlings to emerge. Only a few hatchlings survive to exit the cocoon.
Depending on the species, it takes anywhere from 10 to 55 weeks for worms to mature. They grow daily and are mature once they have the ability to lay and fertilize eggs.
Worms: There are thousands of species that are considered worms, including varieties of annelids like earthworms and red worms, and parasites like hookworms and pinworms. In nature, worms are vital to ecosystem because they act as decomposers, moving decaying material back into the soil where it can feed plants and continue the cycle of life.
Research Earthworm Diversity
Have your children research the web o find the longest worm and different worm colors. I grew up in Scotland and we have green worms, Borneo has blue worms, and Australia has some crazy huge worms (Giant Gippsland worm).
Video: Butler SWCD's video on ideas for teaching worms
Website: Worm Life Cycle Information was from
Video: Worms are Wonderful
Activity Guide: Do the Rot Thing http://www.cvswmd.org/uploads/6/1/2/6/6126179/do_the_rot_thing_cvswmd1.pdf
Page 14 has a compost critters lesson with good information about each critter and the food web.
Website: Outdoor Classroom: Worm Bins & Vermiculture
Online Kids Game: The Adventures of Herman. The Autobiography of Squirmin’ Herman the Worm.
Website: Vermicomposting: A Starter’s Guide for Teachers