As follow up to my recent post on the importance of helping the Earth maintain and replace healthy topsoil, here’s a simple activity to help you have this conversation with your kids: Make a Tiny Wormery!
Worms and other decomposers play an important part in the lifecycle of building topsoil. Their role is to break down dead or decaying organisms and convert them into nutrients that return to the soil, which will later be used by plants to help them grow. It is a beautiful cycle of energy exchange, where all living things at the beginning of the food chain, such as seeds and plants, rely on processes at the end of the chain to survive.
Why bother with projects like this?
My first answer is simply, because it’s fun. If you need no further reason, then please go ahead and skip to the bottom of this page to begin making your Tiny Wormery!
If, however, you need a stronger nudge to handle worms, my next answer may not be fun to consider, but I believe it is critical: The next two generations of adults will have an enormous weight upon their shoulders as they step into roles of community and world leadership in the years ahead. Unfortunately for them, they will have the burden of picking up the tab of decades of destructive human behaviors and the collective effects of big agriculture, factory farming, excessive consumerism and convenience practices creating an ever-growing toxic storm in our land, soil and water that will by then have significantly altered our climate patterns, health and living conditions, as well as our ability to grow food if trends continue.
So, on that terrifying note, how do we inspire future generations to become innovative stewards of the planet? How do we make this conversation feel relevant to them now? How do we not scare the ever living crap out of them, but instead empower them with hope and action? The answer may be more simple than it seems. I believe we can inspire activism and prepare future guardians of the Earth’s resources by inviting children to simply fall in love with the natural world. And we do this by inviting them to play in it.
So now we’re back to having fun.
We get their hands in the dirt and creeks; we let them hold the frogs, bugs, and fossils; we let them make campfires; we invite them to find, grow and harvest food; and we encourage them to leave the designated paths to make (responsible) footprints to discover animals, collect small treasures and climb the massive trees we need them to want to protect.
My hope is if we simply give them the chance to enjoy the many beautiful features our planet offers, they will feel compelled to preserve these same things when they begin to disappear or are under threat. I believe they have to really know – and not just know about, read about or hear about, but personally and emotionally experience the earth with their hands, hearts and brains – to fall in love enough to care to protect and empathize with the many forms of life around them every day. And, much like the cycle of compost and plant life, they will find the natural world they are protecting also symbiotically protects them as well, by providing them with a greater sense of well-being, sustenance, longevity, quality health, beauty and happiness. They will know first-hand how foolish it is to ignore and destroy what gives them life.
I have yet to find a better way to engage with my kids than by having a combination of conversation along with something “hands on” (and often messy) for us to experience together.
Recently I talked with my daughter’s co-op class about composting. Some of this conversation they were into; some of it they weren’t. To spare you the trial and error that I experienced trying to catch and keep their attention, here’s a list of what I noticed lighting them up in the conversation portion:
- What can compost and what can’t (e.g., boots and cans – No!; salad scraps and orange peels – Yes! We brainstormed anything they could imagine and discussed why or why not it was a good option to add to a backyard compost heap)
- Human compost toilets and how they work (show me a child whose favorite topic isn’t defecation)
- Discussing the ingredients necessary to grow healthy soil WHILE handling bugs and dirt (or if they are squeamish, just watching you do it)
- Showing short videos to give their ears a break from my voice that further elaborated on why daily choices matter
–The Dirt on Decomposers
–Types of Decomposers
–Dead Stuff: The Secret Ingredient in Our Food Chain
- Reading powerful quotes and trusting their antennae are perceptive enough to sense when a glimpse of something sacred visits in the form of words. Below is a quote I read to the co-op kids and shared in my last blog post about building life with soil. The kids listened quietly and seemed to “get” the power each of us has to contribute toward the healing or harming buckets every day.
“We are each responsible for the footprints we are leaving upon this planet in our lifetimes. “We “farm” as we eat. If we consume food that has been grown using methods that inadvertently deplete the soil in the growing process, we are responsible for depleting the soil. It is how we are “farming.” If, instead, we raise or request food grown in ways that heal the Earth, then we are healing the Earth and its soils. Our daily food choices make the difference. We can choose to sustain ourselves while increasing the planet’s vitality. In the process, we preserve resources, breathe cleaner air, enjoy good exercise, and eat pure food.” ~ John Jeavons
After a lot of good conversation about nitrogen (food scraps), carbon (leaves and grass trimmings), poop and bugs, we got our hands dirty building the “womery”. Here is a quick breakdown of how to build one:
- Get a cup or jar
- Place a bit of loose gravel on the bottom
- Add a thin layer of sand from the sandbox
- Add a thicker layer of soil from a flowerbed, moisten it lightly.
- Repeat a few times.
- Add some worms on the top (have your kids dig in yard or buy them from a fishing supply shop like Academy).
- Add some organic matter like food scraps or grass on top.
- Spritz with some water to dampen the soil for the worms (dry dirt will not work).
- Cover the sides of the cup with some paper to make it dark (It’s dark underground). Invite your kids to personalize and decorate their label if they want.
- Cover with a well-ventilated lid or plastic wrap.
- Keep your tiny wormery in a dark cool place like a cabinet.
- Spritz the top of the cup daily without disturbing the worms.
- Release the worms no later than 3 days after.
After about three days, have your child take off the outside cover wrap and check out the tunnels the worms made in the dirt and sand – the result is very similar to an ant farm. Maybe ask them to consider how those tunnels alone might help the composting process, or even help plant roots grow and get established more easily.
And then invite them to dump the entire cup into your compost heap, flower beds or garden so the worms can keep doing their important work as decomposers, helping keep all life, including human, on this planet for as long as possible.
Let me know if you try doing this with your kids and how they like it!