As a child, I loved worms. I remember collecting them off my driveway after a good rain, and digging for them in the mud at other times during the year. There was something so wonderful about holding that wiggling worm on your hand and watching it transform into shapes, letters, and numbers. I was mesmerized! I still am. I teach at a school now where we thankfully go outside in all kinds of weather, including the rain. Our students sometimes joke that “the Grades 1-6 children melt in the rain, but not us.” 🙂 Kids come prepared for the wet, muddy weather with rain coats, rain boots, splash pants, umbrellas, and amazing parents, who are more than willing to add an extra wash or two for some rainy weather exploration and the joy that comes from that. My teaching partner, Paula, and I often joke in our nightly emails that it’s “worm weather,” so come prepared, and kids do. For the past three years, our students have loved digging for worms, but this year, their worm interest has been taken to new heights and has all of us seeing worms differently.
For the past three years, it hasn’t been unusual to have kids collecting worms and wishing to bring them inside. Usually though, they put a worm or two in a glass jar, forget about them, and then engage in a worm burial the next day. This year, children are applying what they’ve learned about worms, and despite my fear of having overnight creepy crawlies in our classroom, they’ve ensured that these worms stay alive and together in their soil habitats.
Paula even helped reduce my fears about walking into a worm graveyard the next day, and added a piece of paper with holes in it, over top of our worm container. I guess even some teacher stress can be reduced with a good plan.
I started to see this worm play differently though when we set-up a little table for the worm exploration. Pretty soon, the research that was taking place in the morning here, led to small groups of students engaging in some sensory play in the afternoon.
- I was so taken by their quiet conversations, interactions with the worms, and interactions with each other.
- Social stressors that could sometimes be at play with our younger students were reduced by having something mutually interesting and entertaining to join them together. Groups of children that do not always interact with each other were connecting over these worms.
- Some students that are also always drawn to a large group of children, were taking the time for some independent play at this space. This seemed to help calm them as well as the rest of the class.
Thanks to the interest in the worms, children were also applying their learning from other areas in the room to this space. When one of our children used popsicle sticks to create a marble maze for the worms, I started to see how an interesting item can inspire learning for some kids.
I began to reflect on this quote by Stuart Shanker that my Reading Course facilitator shared at yesterday’s course session.
These worms were inspiring children to read and write, and even creating more interest around literacy through their play. Cognitive stressors associated with difficulties reading and writing were reduced due to their fascination with the worms and a meaningful context for their literacy learning.
But then it was a comment from a parent on one of the Instagram posts, which helped me see some more key learning around these worms: empathy.
The love that our children show these worms is palpable.
- They stare into their eyes.
- They pet their skin.
- They write missing notes when worms disappear.
- One child even danced and sang a special song to Wormy.
The kids are concerned about the well-being of these worms, and this is impacting on how they take care of them and how they support others in doing the same.
And so while I may look at the worms joining the kids for lunch as dysregulating, the students see it as quite the opposite. They’re even being respectful of their peers, and choosing a space together, so that the worms can stay with them and not bother others if people feel differently about their presence.
Springtime may come with additional stress for some people with wet weather, blacktop recesses, and gooey mud, but if a container of worms can bring along some springtime Self-Reg, I think that I may enjoy this season even more. Now I’m starting to wonder if worms could survive right into the wintertime. How about you? How might an unconventional class pet support some of your students in self-regulating? I can breathe through the additional mess and the iPad/worm combinations when I think about the joy that these creatures bring to so many of our kids.