I believe every early childhood setting should have a worm farm.
- Children learn about one of the most important creatures on the planet – yes, worms are right up there with bees as essential life giving creatures
- Worms are easy pets to take care of – we only have to feed them once or twice a week
- Because they eat food waste, they reduce the amount waste going to landfill
- Worms turn food scraps into excellent fertiliser
- Their by-products increase the health of soil and plants
- They teach children about life cycles
Life cycles you ask
Yes, the vermicast (worm poo) and verjuice (worm wee) fertilises the soil that our vegetables grow in. We harvest the vegetables and give the peelings and ends to the worms. They munch and chew their way through the food scraps and turn it into vermicast and vermiliquid that we put right back into the soil to continue the cycle of growing food (and other plants).
We all know children have a fascination with creepy crawly creatures. Worms fit this image well. They are small wriggly creatures that live underground or in worm farms. They have five hearts and breath through their skin. They don’t have eyes but they know when they are in the light and tunnel to get away from it.
A worm farm teaches children how to care for living creatures
- Because worms only eat certain food waste, children how to sort their leftovers and food they don’t eat. Having a poster near the bins will help them learn what worms can eat and what they can’t
- They learn responsibility to ensure that the worms get fed
- They learn how to care for the environment as the results of all the hard work that the worms do, gets returned to the soil
- And they can be involved in every step of the process
In my experience, feeding the worms is one of children’s favourite things about worm farming. When you lift the lid off, they look to see if there are any worms on the surface eating their way through the waste. They watch as they disappear from the light. And then they get to add more scraps to the farm.
However, exploring the worm farm is the most exciting part of all. That’s when we can take some worms out and hold them, watch them, describe them, and learn how to be gentle and kind. We always wear gloves so the oils on our skin doesn’t hurt the worms, and we are protected from the vermicast and composting food that may come out with the worms.
When children hold the worms they learn about the different parts – they can see the segments that divide up the muscles that help worms move. They can try to spot the saddle that shows it is an adult worm. When they watch the worms move, they see them stretch and squeeze to get from one place to another, and watch as they tunnel their way out of the light.
Looking after a worm farm can also help children overcome their fear of worms. I have seen children who are scared of worms develop a love of them. They start out by helping to feed them, and overtime they gain the confidence to hold a worm. When they overcome their fear, they learn that worms are creatures to be respected and looked after.
However, with all experiences in early childhood, worm farms provide more learning than just looking after the worms and using their by-products.
Worm farms encourage:
- Language and literacy skills: Describing how a worm looks and moves, ‘reading’ the images on the worm farm menu to sort food waste.
- Math skills: Sorting food waste into what worms can and can’t eat, possibly weighing the food waste, counting the worms
- Cognitive skills: Learning how worms live, what they eat, what their by-products can be used for
- Social skills: Learning together about caring for worms, turn-taking to feed the worms, helping each other sort their food waste
- Emotional skills: Taking responsibility, gaining confidence in their ability to recognise what worms can and cannot eat, learning respect for another living being, self-control to not hurt a worm
The benefits for having a worm farm in an early childhood setting outweighs why you wouldn’t have one. If you want to reduce the food waste in your centre (or at home), while at the same time caring for the planet, then a worm farm is a really good place to begin.