As your family plans and prepares for your upcoming spring garden, there's one hands-on activity you can do together right now: vermicomposting!
Creating your own wiggly worm habitat for kids is one of the best ways to teach youngsters about simple, at-home sustainability. Also built into this fun activity are lessons about environmental responsibility, science, food production, and animal care.
Perhaps best of all is that this process is a free, healthy, screen-free activity for the kids—something parents are always looking for. And if you're worried about the mess, don't be. Starting a worm farm is one of the many composting activities for kids that can be done in the kitchen, in a basement, or even outside. So, let's get started!
First, the Wiggly Why
Before gathering your supplies, talk to your kids about why worms are important to soil health. Cornell University has some great resources on the wormy, squirmy world of these little decomposers.
Worms can do all of these amazing things:
Wrigglers aerate the soil.
They consume food waste and yard scraps that would otherwise take much longer to decompose in a landfill.
Worms replace the nutrients that are taken out of the soil when herbs and vegetables are grown there.
These critters leave castings, affectionately known by scientists as worm poop, which improve the texture and fertilizing power of soil.
Once your pets outgrow your worm farm and join the garden, they also stimulate root growth for stronger, healthier vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
Your family can investigate together how decomposers turn food waste and organic compost into more nutrient-dense soil than its unfertilized counterpart. Little ones can start out with a book like Deep Down Underground or Compost Stew, and you can encourage older kids to hypothesize about what they may see as they assemble and nurture their little invertebrate ecosystem. Write down everyone's predictions.
Get To Work
Now, it's time to gather your supplies.
What you'll need:
A clear, 2-liter bottle or half-gallon glass jar with lid (to create an even larger worm habitat for kids, you can use an opaque storage bin)
Dirt from the yard or garden
A spray bottle with tap water
A spade or shovel
Ready to get started? Have kids shred the newspaper into small pieces. Spray the newspaper with water to dampen it, and place a 1-inch layer of the dampened, shredded paper in the bottom of the container.
Next, layer in a level of dirt.
Then, add another layer of wet shredded paper. Continue on, alternating layers of bedding and soil until the container is three-quarters full. Finally, have kids use the shovel to dig up some red worms, and add them to their new habitat. If you don't have a huge backyard, ask a neighbor or local park if you can dig a small hole in their flower bed. Or, go for a walk in the woods and see what you find beneath a log!
Set up a feeding calendar so that the worms are never neglected. A good worm meal could include egg shells, fruit peels, coffee grounds, grass clippings, or stale bread. A worm can eat half its weight per day, writes the Squirm Firm, so be sure your kids' new little friends get plenty of kitchen compost.
At feeding time (or at people feeding time), prompt a discussion by asking where the elements in the meal will eventually end up. If kids need help following the mental nutrient trail, remind them that the worms' output produces fertilizer for plants that can eventually make their way back to your kitchen table.
The Wriggly Wait
The final thing your worm farm needs is a dark, quiet place and time to work. Some vermicomposters wrap a black piece of construction paper around their bottle or jar to keep light out. Others stash their worm farm in the basement and leave it alone to let it do its job. While it's true that worms hate bright light, your little worm keepers will want to know what's going on in there. Observation is part of science, and occasionally exposing your wrigglers to light to check on them won't harm them. Let children (gently!) turn the dirt with a spade or old spoon every other week.
The first thing kids will notice is the layers blending together within the first day or two. What else do your young scientists observe? Can they see the castings? Have them revisit the questions they wrote down in the beginning stage of this experiment.
When you're ready to fertilize your garden, consider planting some herbs and vegetables without your vermicompost mixture for the purpose of comparison. Again, here's a great way for kids to learn the scientific process. Have them hypothesize: What will the vermicompost-fertilized plants look like at harvest compared to the unfertilized ones?
Dirt and worms are part of the cycle of life. Kids have naturally been attracted to the soil's wiggly helpers for generations. Cultivate that fascination while teaching simple, at-home sustainability with a worm farm of your own. When you do, post pictures to inspire other families by tweeting @TomsofMaine.
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Why It’s Good
Only one activity combines the productive goodness of gardening with the responsibility of improving soil health: worm farming! The best part about starting your own worm farm is that kids are naturally drawn to the wriggly helpers and dirt, so you can feel good knowing you're not twisting any arms for enthusiastic participation.