4th and 5th Grade Level
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The most obvious and common school project I have run across is
at the grade school level, most often in the Kindergarten class.
Young kids and worms just seem to go together. Most haven't
developed adverse reactions to squirmy, slimy critters yet and are
actually quite excited about watching, digging, and letting the
worms crawl up their arms.
The great thing about a worm project at this level is that the
kids really can do most of the work putting the project together.
All it takes is a rubber tote with holes drilled in the sides and
bottom, screening material to cover the holes, and hot glue to glue
the screening material over the holes. The kids can help with much
of this with caution used in the obvious areas.
The bedding material can be shredded newspaper which the kids can
shred by hand and the food is donated every day from kids lunch
leftovers and daily snacks.
The kindergarten teacher at my local school named her class worm
bin "The Worm Wagon". She set her worm bin up in a red wagon to
catch the leachate from the bottom of the bin and it made it
portable so it could be stored out of the way in the corner of the
room when not in use, but could still be brought out where all the
kids could gather around and investigate what was going on in the
worm bin. I still remember the excitement the day I brought the
class their worms and dumped them out on their worm bin. *One
surprising note: As you know most kindergartens have a morning and
an afternoon class. I took the worms to the afternoon class and
that class is the class that really took ownership of the worm bin.
Something about actually seeing that big pile of worm wiggle their
way down into the worm bin made an indelible impression upon them.
They were more attentive and involved in the worm bin over all than
was the morning class.
Suggested classroom discussion:
what do worms eat?
where does our garbage go?
what happens to our garbage after the garbage
man comes to get it?
what kind of things can you bring from your
house for the worms to eat?
what do you throw away that worms could eat?
At the 4th and 5th grade level the kids are obviously more
sophisticated and can make more independent decisions on how to set
the system up and problem solve. Indeed this should be part of
the project. The project I was involved with was a joint
project with two teachers including 2 separate classes. Each
class designed and built their own system. There was
collaboration within the teams and a healthy competitiveness between
the teams as each tried to come up with a better system that ended
up with more of a worm population. Each developed their own
feeding styles, maintenance schedules, and methods for harvesting.
If you have an "expert" in the field in your area, it is an
excellent idea to have that person in to give a talk to the class.
The class gets the experience of interviewing, and processing
information given in an alternative form from books and classroom
Here are some of the questions I was asked:
How do we make money from worms?
Who figured out that red worms were best for eating garbage?
Do other worms eat garbage?
How is the poop fertilizer?
Can we add different worms?
How many bins do you have?
Do red worms make the best fertilizer?
Where do you get the worms?
Do your worms eat all your garbage?
At this level you are still dealing with kids growing worms and
worms eating garbage. The next level is where you can really
introduce a new depth to the learning experience and make a
difference on a large scale.
A Mid-Scale Vermicomposting Program
Entering into the study of vermicomposting will lead you on to the
realization of many facts which many of us do not think about on a
daily basis, but would be wise of us to learn about. If we
want to continue to have the quality of life for our children and
our children's children that we have enjoyed most of our life then
we must make adjustments to the way we have been living and dealing
with our waste. To continue to promote fast food in our
cafeterias, disposable plates, utensils and cups, water bottles and
the like, is an irresponsible message to our young people. The
education of our future leaders - our children - is of utmost
importance if we wish to maintain a high standard of living.
We must stop mixing food waste with our paper and plastic and
burying it in the landfills where it creates a toxic dump.
With vermicomposting as the tool, a seemingly
insurmountable problem becomes manageable with a positive outcome.
And the lessons learned along the way will be invaluable.
Project-based learning is a strategy that allows
students to take ownership of what is learned and how. It
provides the opportunity to learn by doing, by making decisions and
finding solutions to problems encountered as a natural process of
the project. All aspects of the child can be engaged as they
apply their academic, social, and life skills to the work at hand.
"Worm science" is an effective way for
students to experience first hand the basics of life cycles.
Learning by doing has a profound resonance which gives the student
ownership over what he/she is doing and will foster a community in
your classroom and their lives beyond that.
For hundreds of years the three R's stood for Readin',
Riting, and Rithmetic. But in this day and age,
with all our new technology, conveniences, and resulting waste, it
now becomes necessary to pay attention to a new mantra - Reduce,
Reuse, and Recycle.
Laytonville Middle School began vermicomposting
project and school gardens in the fall of 1987. They
demonstrated that communities could reduce the use of their
landfills, water and fossil fuels. This is a valuable lesson
to teach our students. In ten months time they eliminated the
use of one trash dumpster which was costing them $6,000.00 in
disposal costs. And that's just part of the picture.
One of the first systems that will have to be
devised is a sorting scheme for the lunch room wastes. Once
you implement this system you will see that it goes way beyond the
recycling of food waste and can encompass the handling of your
complete waste stream:
As you can see the implementing of a vermicomposting project will require
vision and the desire to make a real difference from the very
beginning. You will need the ability to look at old
problems in a new way and see the solution as a process that has
a beginning and an end. You will first have to determine
what your specific vermicomposting needs are. Who will be
responsible for the project? Who will do what needs to be
done and where can you do it? What special equipment and
or technologies will you need to proceed and be successful?
Where will you get the funds to support the project? How
will you keep records and who will decide what records need to
be kept? What will you do with the product produced, and
who will benefit from them? What obstacles do you have in
your way and how will you deal with them?
Sorting of the waste is only the beginning, but
this process will help you determine the scope of the project
and will get you well on your way to answering all the other
questions that will come up.
Step 1: Conduct a school-wide waste audit
In order to determine the size of your
vermicomposting project you must first determine the volume of
food waste that needs to be handled by your system.
Ideally, the students will handle this with the support of
staff, faculty, and parents. Everyone needs to be
involved, with the students managing the entire project.
The cafeteria is the obvious producer of waste
on a large scale, and two containers for pre-consumer food waste
should be stationed in the kitchen for staff to use. But
if you look closely there are many other areas where the audit
can be effective as well. Integration into the daily
activities of the students is essential to success.
Set up two food waste containers with the trash
and recycling containers in the cafeteria. These
containers will hold post-consumer food wastes. One will
be for vegetable, grain, and fruit waste - this includes all
vegetable peelings, fruit rinds and cores, egg shells, breads,
pizza crust, coffee grounds, pancakes, noodles, beans, melons,
and well you get the idea. The second one will be for meat
waste and bones, and dairy products like milk and cheese,
dressings, and fats.
Developing a picture-clue bulletin board which
will help in identifying the various recyclables is a very good
idea. Labeling the containers will cut down on confusion
as to where each item goes.
After lunch the food waste, both pre-consumer
and post-consumer, are weighed by the students and recorded.
After a month of this process you will have enough information
to determine on average how much waste is produced each day.
The amount of food waste to be recycled per day will determine
the size of your vermiculture project.
The recycling of non-compostable materials is a separate
project that could be undertaken at the same time as the
vermicomposting project. All of these items have an impact
on our landfills.
Step 2: Building an environment
On earth all living things have a specific
environment which directly relates to their survival. The
housing for worms can vary greatly depending on the materials
available and the basic requirements of the persons providing
for the worms. However, the thing that does not change is
the conditions the worms require in order to survive and thrive.
When planning your bins remember to consider
whether the material is going to be detrimental to the worms or
other organisms in the composting culture. Wood that has
been pressure-treated with preservatives will not only be bad
for your worms but the substances will leach into your compost.
Then if you use your compost on your vegetable garden those same
toxins will find their way to your dinner table.
Make sure that your bins are not too deep.
Air is a very important ingredient for healthy compost.
You also want to be able to work the bins with relative ease,
and the worms are top feeders.
How big your bins are and how many you have will
depend largely on your school's food waste audit. The
recommended amount of worms is 1lb per square foot.
Typically, you will need one square foot of space to bury one
pound of food per day per 2lbs of worms.
A good size for a worm bin is 4' x 8' and one
foot to eighteen inches deep. By purchasing 3 boards which
are 2" thick and 8' long by however deep you want to make your
beds you will be able to build the4 sides of the worm beds .
Use 2 - 4' x 8' 5/8" exterior grade plywood for the top and
bottom of the bin. Hinged lids are optional but do make it
easier to handle the opening and closing of the bin. The
corners of the bins get held together with 4 evenly spaced 16D
nails. Reinforce the corners with steel-reinforcement.
Moisture and weight are both factors that will cause stress on
your corners and warping of the wood. Screwing in steel
corner braces in the corners will strengthen the bin and help it
The bottom of the bin will need holes for
drainage of excess moisture. Drill 5 rows down the length,
of 4 holes each across the width of the bin. Place the
finished bin up on supports to allow for air circulation and
drainage. Cinder blocks are good for this. Make sure
and support the corners and the middle of the bin. The
middle should be supported along the out side of the bin and in
With what the school will save in waste disposal
these bins will more than pay for themselves.
Step 3: Aspects of a successful mid-scale vermicomposting
One of the most important aspects of a healthy
worm bin is a good supply of oxygen. A system that is
anaerobic (without oxygen) is toxic. It will kill your
worms and all the good bacteria that are working on decomposing
the material in your bins. And it will smell very bad.
A properly maintained vermicomposting system will not
Compaction will also decrease the supply of
oxygen in the bin. Shallow bins and frequent turning help
to keep oxygen incorporated through-out the bedding material.
Natural compaction occurs with the worms working the material
and converting it to castings.
Adequate moisture is necessary for the worms to
remain healthy and is also a requirement for the other
decomposers in the vermicomposting system. Since the
regular turning to incorporate oxygen into the bedding also
encourages evaporation of the moisture present, additional
moisture needs to be added to keep the moisture level adequate.
This can be a tricky aspect of the system. However,
remember that the worms like to feed at the top of the bin and
that gravity will naturally pull the water down into the bin.
Ideally, when you water the bin it's the top you want wet, not
the bottom - so apply less water more often.
Gardening is the perfect companion activity to
vermicomposting in the school environment. Gardening
brings the gardener closer to the earth and raises sensitivity
to the environment.
There are the lessons of chemistry and botany,
photosynthesis, micro-organisms, ecosystems and the list could
go on and on. The science of farming, the business of
farming, the impact farming has on the soil, different methods
that impact the soil differently. The biological make-up
of the worm casting and how soil dwellers benefit the structure
of the soil.
Gardening is a fascinating activity that goes
hand in hand with vermicomposting if the gardening is done
organically. Chemicals kill the life in the soil and will
kill the life in the worm castings.
Organic gardening means no chemicals,
pesticides, or herbicides. And in the school environment
as well as in the home garden organic gardening can be done
easily, efficiently and in support of the natural order of
Food4Wealth will help anyone successfully garden organically
whether for a school project growing to supplement the school
nutrition program or growing in your own back yard to take control
of your own family's food supply.
You will find step-by-step instruction with clear
illustrations to help you get started. It is also provided as an
There are 14 video tutorials with over 60 minutes of hands
on instruction showing exactly what to do to have a successful organic
garden on any scale.
The step-by-step project plan will help
guide you through the whole process of how to start producing organic food.
Implementing this plan with your vermicomposting system will virtually
guarantee your success and round out your curriculum to give the student a
total understanding of the ecosystem and how it works to sustain life on