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Young Sprouts: Vermiculture for Kids

Activities and Play

3/7/2022 | Emily Jaeger

If you’re never heard the term before, you’re probably wondering--what is vermiculture anyway? Vermiculture is a type of composting using worms to break down food scraps. The final product, vermicompost, is one of the best types of fertilizers for organic gardening. In the context of early childcare, a composting worm is a low-maintenance class pet that provides multiple hands-on opportunities to explore environmentalism and animal life cycles. 

Traditional composting may require organization-wide buy-in, outdoor space, and/or transportation of food waste to an offsite facility. However, a single, interested classroom can make a small worm farm indoors, mostly from materials that you already have.

How to Make a Worm Bin

Both DIY worm bins and store-bought are great options to begin vermiculture in the classroom. For a simple DIY worm bin all you need is a large Tupperware or plastic bin with a top. Poke some air-holes in the lid and you are ready to go. The main difference with store-bought worm bins, other than price, is that they usually include a layering system to harvest the vermicompost more efficiently. 

Once you have selected and assembled your worm bin, you will need to set up the bedding and food for the worms. The best worm bedding material is either shredded newspaper or brown paper. Wet the bedding until moist (not soggy), place in the worm bin, and re-fluff. The worms will both live in and eat through their bedding.

Only certain species of worms work for vermiculture. The most common are California redworms. Fortunately, it is easy to purchase some live composting worms online and they reproduce quickly. Also, you can reach out to your local arboretum or nature center for a handful to get started. 

Introduce the worms into their new home and begin to feed them with the food scraps leftover from snacks and lunch (just be careful not to overfeed). Worms prefer their food cut up into smaller pieces. A perfect Montessori-style activity for young learners is to cut or mash up a selection of food scraps to feed to the worms. Have children place food underneath an inch of bedding and close the bin. Check on the worm bin after 3-4 days to see how they gobbled up their meal. Replace bedding as needed. 

Worm Farm Activities for Kids

Storytime. Check out this great list of worm books for toddlers and preschoolers. 

Harvesting. In addition to feeding, harvesting is the other main maintenance activity for your worm bin. Once your colony has reached critical mass, worms can convert a whole worm bin of scraps and bedding into castings in two months or less. With store bought worm bins, the worm castings will fall through the different layers so that they are easily harvested from a bottom tray. 

With a DIY worm bin, you will have to separate out the worms from the castings. Scoop worm castings (with worms) into multiple cone shapes on a protected surface. Wait 15 minutes. Worms will burrow down away from the light, allowing you to harvest the top layer of castings with your hands or spoons. 

Observe the Castings. Once you have had your first harvest, observe the worm castings with your learners. You might compare a handful of castings to a handful of dirt (or even traditional compost). What differences do they observe? If you have a school garden, try fertilizing some plants with worm castings (and leaving some plants without). Was there any difference in how the plants grew with or without castings? 

Worm Life Cycle. These worms reproduce quickly. In about a month you will have all stages of the life cycle present in your worm bin. Identify worm eggs (they look like little yellow gems), baby worms, and adult worms with your learners. 

Taste Test. While some people do eat dried worm powder for extra protein…this taste test is for the worms! Try placing two foods in the bin and see which ones the worms will eat first (hint: watermelon is a big hit). 

Worm Math. How many worms are in the bin? Well, the number will keep changing exponentially. Every once and while, pull out a quarter of the bin and try counting some worms together or measuring their volume (using cup measures). How does the number compare to the original handful you used to start the bin? Or to your count last month? 

You can also time how long it takes for worms to eat a cup full of food. As the worm population increases over time, the amount of time will decrease. 

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.

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