Unlike flying insects that can startle kids or larger animals than can intimidate preschoolers, earthworms are small, squirmy creatures that many kids don’t mind picking up. As a naturalist, I’ve brought earthworms into many preschool classes. Teaching about worms is one of my favorite classes.
Introduction to Earthworms
When introducing earthworms to preschoolers I usually start by telling them some facts with the help of a worm sock puppet. A worm sock puppet is the easiest puppet to create, just look for a pinkish-brown sock and slide it over your hand, pushing in some of the fabric between your fingers and your thumb to create a mouth. Have your worm puppet talk, telling kids about some of these facts.
I’ll also slip a couple dozen pony beads onto a strip of elastic to show how worm’s bodies are made up of little segments (like the beads) and how as they move they can get longer.
Facts about Earthworms from The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart (2005) and Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer and Steve Jenkins (2002)
- There are 20,000 types of worms living everywhere but the driest and coldest climates.
- Worms are not insects (which have six legs). Worms are annelids, the scientific grouping for segmented worms.
- Earthworms can burrow 12-to-18″ into the ground, bringing subsoil to the surface.
- Earthworms don’t eat dirt as food. They eat dead leaves, helping to clean nature and to make nutrient-rich soil. The dirt they do eat helps to grind up the dead leaves in their digestive tract.
- Earthworms are nocturnal, they come out at night.
- Earthworms are eaten by moles, shrews, raccoons, opossums, toads, frogs, and birds.
- Worms like in underground tunnels called burrows.
- Earthworms don’t have lungs. Their slimy coating allows oxygen from the air or water to enter their skin. Their slime (mucus) helps them move over the ground without getting hurt.
- Earthworm bodies are covered in setae (SEE-tee), little bristles that help them to move over the ground. If you’ve ever tried to pull a worm from the ground you know what a good job the setae do at giving them a good grip.
- Earthworms don’t have eyes. They do have skin cells which can detect light.
- Earthworms have lots of muscles. They have a long muscle that runs the length of their body. They also have ringed segments that wrap around their body. They also move by grasping the ground with their prehensile (grabbing) lip.
- Worm poop is called cast. Along with decaying leaves, worms will eat bacteria, fungi, and decaying animals. You will see little piles of worm casts on top of bare ground.
- Worms are both male and female (hermaphrodites).
- The wide ring you see around a worm’s body is called the clitellum (klih-TEH-lum) and is a sign that you are looking at an adult worm.
Worm Experiments for Your Preschool Lesson Plan
You can pick up worms at the local pet shop or bait shop. Don’t assume that these worms belong in the environment around your home or school. Ask if they are native worms. Worms from other parts of the country can actually harm nature if they consume their food faster than worms that belong to the area.
Remind kids that worms are nocturnal and prefer to live in the damp soil. These experiments can show kids how worms behave to get to their chosen environment. I’ve used these activities many times while working as a nature teacher since 1997.
Wet or Dry? Wet a piece of paper towel and lay it over one half of a paper plate. Set another, dry, piece of paper on the plate so it isn’t touching the wet paper. Place one or two worms on the space between the paper towels. Watch if the worm moves toward the wet paper or the dry paper.
Dark or Light? Take a cardboard tube from the inside of a roll of toilet paper and line it with a damp piece of paper towel. Position the paper towel so it is half in/half out of the tube. Set the worm near the opening of the tube. Shine a flashlight on the worm’s body. See if it moves toward the darkness from within the tube.
Warm or Cold? Set some ice cubes near the worm and watch if it moves closer or further away from the cold.
Set out some worms on paper plates that you’ve covered with damp paper towel. Sit two-to-four kids around each worm and have them take turns naming something they notice about the worm and how it moves. If you have enough worms to give one to each student, even better!
Some kids will pick up the worms with no problem, other kids will touch the worms, and some kids won’t want to touch them at all. Tell the kids to push the worms back on the plate if they try to move away (worms can move remarkably fast when trying to evade preschoolers). Be prepared to act as the worm wrangler.
Give the kids inexpensive magnifying glasses so they can get a closer look at their worms. Can they see the dark line of soil running through the worm’s digestive tract? Can they see the bristles covering the worm’s body? Does their worm have a wide band around its body? That means it is an adult. Can they see the worm using its lip to help it move?
Worms are fun creatures for preschoolers to study up close. A fun snack to end this topic is chocolate pudding cups topped with some crushed chocolate cookie “soil” with a gummy worm poking out from the cup.