I recently taught a “Wiggly Worms” lesson to a class of three-year-olds. Though enthusiastic, their earthworm identification skills were in need of honing. Despite my emphasis on the program’s worm theme, which included worm visuals, worm races, worm songs, and a worm craft, when we encountered actual earthworms in the Arboretum’s Funshine Garden, they were met with squeals of “Run! Snake!” followed by an attempted beheading of the creature I had just praised as “a gardener’s best friend.”
Obviously, these kids had little prior worm exposure. Which is a shame, because earthworms really are a gardener’s best friend. Their tunnels aerate the soil, and their movements help mix rich topsoil into lower soil layers. Worms dine on organic matter, like leaves and grass, breaking them down into castings (which is a pleasant way of saying worm poop) that fertilize the soil.
Just as importantly, earthworms are fun. Digging for worms offers the thrill of the hunt, and most little ones (the aforementioned three-year-olds being an exception) are giddy with delight when a squiggly worm is placed in their palm. Give children two worms, set some parameters, and voila, it’s worm race time. Not the fastest race (maybe because worms don’t have eyes or legs?), but still amusing. If worms are not easily found in the soil, try turning over bricks, tree stumps, or stones—worms thrive in dark, moist places.
Once your outdoor worm adventures are over, cuddle up with your little one and enjoy the sweet “Wiggle and Waggle” story collection by Caroline Arnold. Or, for an even sweeter treat, decorate a batch of “dirt” cupcakes with gummy worms and watch your child dig in.
Looking for more kid-friendly nature experiences? Registration is now open for Adkins Arboretum’s spring preschool and homeschool programs, as well as for summer nature camps. Click here to learn more!
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator