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Grandparents Teach, Too, column: Spring science means learning about nature

10:32 AM, May 15, 2013  |  Comments
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Although earthworms may not be the cutest of spring animals, they have an important place in nature study for young children. For more science fun and learning see grandparentsteachtoo.org and wnmu.org for pod casts "Learning Through the Seasons."

Materials needed:

A little shovel, plastic container, magnifying glass, flashlight, crayons and spiral notebook

What to do:

Earthworms provide cheap science that can teach young children to observe, question, experiment, and discuss.

Take a stroll, observe, and share information. Earthworms are farmers. They plow, harrow, drain, and fertilize the soil. Earthworms can burrow as deep as eight feet, but usually stay about 12" below ground. They eat almost anything, but earth and nonmeat are ground up and digested the fastest. They leave behind a rich fine textured waste called castings. Can children find these little mounds in the yard? Find an area with many castings, count, smooth out, and count new castings the next day.

There are about 50,000 earthworms in an acre of healthy soil and eighteen tons of soil goes through their bodies yearly. The bad news is they help release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and harm forests.

After a rainstorm carefully collect worms on the sidewalk. Since earthworms breathe through their skin, they must get out or drown if their hole is flooded. Rescue the drowning worms and place them back on the grass. Observe the worms trying to dig back into the soil to stay moist.

Dig under leaves and children might find a huge night crawler that is easier to observe. Watch the worm's strong muscles as it moves. Children can pick it up to feel the bristles. These help it stay in the burrow away from predators. Can children pull one out?

Earthworms are completely deaf, but sensitive to vibration. What happens if children tap next to a worm? Measure a worm at rest versus stretched out and on the move. Earthworms are nocturnal and avoid white light. What happens if children shine a flashlight on a worm? Interestingly, red light will not affect them.

Children can make a terrarium with a plastic container, moist garden soil, and a few worms covered with leaves and grass. Keep the soil moist and watch what happens. Do the worms make burrows? After about a week of observation return the worms to nature. Wash hands well after touching them.

What else can we do?

Draw earthworm scenes and write a little book with words dictated by your children. Use library books below as your models. Make worm scenes with play dough. Look up earthworms on Google and YouTube. Popular library books include: "Diary of a Worm" by Doreen Cronin, "An Earthworm's Life" by John Himmelman, "Wiggling Worms at Work" by Wendy Pfeffer, "Yucky Worms: Read and Wonder" by Vivian French and "Garden Wigglers" by Nancy Loewen.

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