I bought several dozen nightcrawlers from a bait shop to bring to the library. To begin the program I talked about earthworms, their physiology, habitat, and benefits to the soil. Did you know that many earthworms in North America are invasive species from Europe? I love that my job lets me learn so many new things.
Part two of the program was worm racing! I followed the ideas on this website for my races. I already had a roll of plastic table cloth material, so I covered all of the tables with that, then used a marker to make one small and one large circle. After spending a few moments having fun just holding the worms, and after some instruction on safe ways to handle the worms (squeezing = not a good idea), the children were instructed to put their worms in the inner circle, and the worms would “race” to see which worm made it to the outside of the outer circle. The original website’s circles were very large, and I was worried that my worms would not be active enough, so I made my circles much smaller. It turns out that I shouldn’t have been worried. Not only were my nightcrawlers much larger than the worms the original poster was using, but they squirmed around quite a lot. In a way the smallish circles worked out well, because each table got to have multiple very quick races, but if I ran the program again, I would use larger circles.
Next we painted with the worms. After much internet poking around to assure me the worms would be fine, as well as some quick trials runs of my own to double-check, I was assured that the worms would survive. We dipped the worms in nontoxic paint and then put them on the paper. As they wriggled around they painted the paper. There were bowls of cool water to rinse the worm off so that more than one color could be used. (I emphasized several times that worms breathe through their skin so rinsing should be quick.) The younger children in particular were very taken with the idea that the worms were painting a picture for them.
I provided little plastic cups with lids (the sort that I usually put paint inside for craft programs) so that anyone who wanted to take their worm home could do so. As far as I could tell we didn’t lose any worms to squeezing, though I can’t speak for what happened once they got home.