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Finding STEM in Squirming Worms

by Diann Gano, M.Ed


“AAAAUUUUGHHHHHHH! Worms! Look, look! They are everywhere!” Eleanor is jumping up and down hysterically. Nothing will bring our crew running faster than a good worm sighting!

Let the earthworm exploration begin. We love worms!

Last spring, we witnessed an unusual natural phenomenon as a mass of earthworms wiggled out of their subterranean homes in the soil and squirmed onto our sidewalk.

This weird worm event elicited great joy and excitement from our early learners as they raced over to investigate.

There are a number of names for a large group of earthworms, including a bed, a bunch, a clat or a clew. So if you casually refer to a squirming mass of earthworms as a bunch, you are technically correct!

Why are there so many?  Why are they tangled?  Will they bite me? Where is the worm’s mouth?

The curiosity is flowing faster than the answers. When you see excitement at this level, embrace the moment! Grab a camera and start documenting the Illinois Early Learning Standards that you’ll be meeting today!

Worms can be used to teach length—and we sometimes measure them with tape measures. But this is just one of the ways that worms spark investigation, inquiry and analysis in our outdoor curriculum.

Our love of worms has afforded us days and days of study. In the photo above, you can see collaboration, hypothesizing, theorizing and prediction in action.

This is a group of three-year-old scientific investigators—and their brains are on fire! This is STEM exploration at its most engaging as we measure, count, estimate and subtilize while learning about earth science and life science.

Our students are learning that living things grow and change. They are drawing conclusions from their investigations as they scrutinize the worms’ anatomy and behavior.

This fact-finding mission also fosters a respect for life in all its forms. We try really hard not to hurt our worms. When a two-year-old child engages in hands-on investigations with an earthworm, it doesn’t always end so well for the worm. To protect the worms from overzealous handling, we’ve taught the older children to monitor the well-being of the worms in the hands of their younger peers. This is hands-on learning, coupled with collaboration!

As your early learners explore the world of earthworms, encourage them to ask questions that will guide their investigations. By encouraging them to engage in deeper scientific inquiry, you’ll be setting them up for academic success in the years to come.

“Can I hold it? ” asks two-year-old Alex.

As an older friend passes a worm to Alex, she pulls her hand back a few times before she is ready to receive it.

We offer Alex a glove, but she wants to be like the “big kids” and go gloveless. After we reassure her that the worm has no teeth or pincers, she tries again. This is a good example of the importance of time and patience as we guide children through the investigative process.

People often ask how we “get” our kids to hold a worm. We read a lot of books about worms and I make sure that there are worm books on our shelves from March through October. We also observe worms for long periods of time. If our early learners have one brave friend who is willing to pick up a worm, that’s all it takes to persuade the others to persevere, despite their initial trepidation.

As the children engage in their hands-on worm investigations, we throw out facts, often in whispered voices: “Did you know that worms do not have teeth? Worms also do not have pincers or stingers. They have no eyes, legs or arms. They will never hurt us.”

These are the facts that I share with young learners who are anxious or experiencing worms for the first time. A child who investigated worms as a two-year-old last fall may not have retained that memory as a three-year-old—and we may need to reintroduce worms this spring.

Retention and problem-solving skills continue to evolve as students seek answers to their questions through active investigation. Last fall’s observer may be this spring’s hands-on investigator. Our students need long periods of time to observe and learn as this curriculum unfolds in front of their eyes.

By creating an environment that leads to discovery, you are setting your curriculum in motion. Add large rocks, tree cookies or even soil-filled planters that can serve as worm habitats. Some teachers add soil and worms to their sand and water tables to create worm farms in their classrooms. Our goal is to foster the development of inquisitive minds.

We extend our learning with songs and finger-play. We enjoy “Eat Like a Worm Day” as we snack on vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, lettuce and apples. We make “worms” out of clay—some thick, some thin, some short and some very, very long.

Mr. Nicky's Science Project

Mr. Nicky (pictured above) has a wonderfully funny song titled “Earthworm,” that has taught our children so much about the vital role that worms play in keeping our soil healthy. There are many silly worm songs, but this has a great hook and gets our children moving as they learn new facts about worms while having fun. It’s one of our favorites.

We always try to return worms to their natural habitat when our observations are over. We thank the worms for doing their part to make our lawn healthy and beautiful as we release them back into the place where we found them. We send them home to their families, which resonates with our young learners.

We wish you many happy STEM adventures as you and your early learners study these champions of the soil.

Happy worm hunting!

6 Replies to “Finding STEM in Squirming Worms”

  1. some kids maybe they are confuse if what is the gender of the worm, and for sure they gonna be happy to give a name of the worm and they wanna kept this as their pet.

  2. Great idea to use for this activity with worms. I myself do not like worms but do encourage the young ones to explore their surroundings.

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