Long gone are the days when the classroom pet is a fish, gerbil, hamster, budgie or even a bunny rabbit.
Now, in at least one area school, the classroom pet is a bin full of 400 worms.
Late last year, Willowgrove Primary School decided it wanted to enhance its environmental educational curriculum and added an indoor vermicomposter to its junior/senior kindergarten class.
"We're surrounded by nature and it's a very big part of our curriculum," said Geralde Reesor-Grooters, the McCowan Road school's kindergarten teacher. "You can't always cage nature, move it inside and look at it, with worms you can."
Vermicomposting is composting, which is the aerobic decomposition of biodegradable organic matter, but with the assistance of red wiggler worms.
"The resulting vermicompost, or worm cast, is rich in nutrients," according to Cathy Nesbitt, owner and operator of Cathy's Crawly Composters, which supplied Willowgrove with the worms and educational material for the students. "It's more valuable to farmers, landscapers and home gardeners than raw manure or traditional compost. Worm castings conserve moisture and improve soil conditions."
Vermicomposting is ideal for people who live in apartments and condos, as well as for classrooms, as it only requires a plastic bin with a lid and air holes at the top and bottom, bedding made of crushed egg shells, potting soil, shredded paper, water and a bunch of red wiggler worms.
"The type of worm is important. They're not all composting worms," Ms Nesbitt noted.
Everyday, Mrs. Reesor-Grooters' class adds their organic food scraps, such as apple cores and banana peels, into the bin, so the worms can start eating their way through it.
About two pounds of red wigglers will recycle about one pound of organic matter in 24 hours. Which means in about three or four months, Willowgrove's worms will have created enough cast-offs, or compost, for the class to use in its planting of milkweed outside their room.
"Because of the spraying, the milkweed is in decline and with it goes the population of the Monarch butterfly," Mrs. Reesor-Grooters noted. "It's nice to have a long-term (project)...instead of just the worms."
Educating children about the value of composting in this manner, not only teaches them about the environment, it also gets them eating more fruits and vegetables.
"Some teachers have reported the kids will eat better because they want to feed the worms," Ms Nesbitt said. "It's a nice hidden extra benefit."
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