Worms Making Worlds​

Red wigglers worm their way into the worlds of children in this preschool class. These captive, composting worms are gifted to the preschoolers as they journey toward thinking differently about food waste. 

Inviting these little composters to build worlds together becomes a special event. Children notice the worms’ movements, colours, complexion, shape and wormy antics. 

“They’re wriggling. I think they are trying to get out.” – Carol

Children and educators puzzle over how we might respond to living with these creatures and what it might require to create a caring collective.

“I think the food is the worms’ home.” – Cindy

“They hide in the day and come out at night.” – Louisa

“Worms like the dark.” – Pierre

Children and educators explore possible food scraps for the composting worms. We read together and begin to compile a list of possibilities. 

In this process children and educators gather worm knowledge, and we build upon and add to this existing knowledge as we create collective worlds with children and worms. Educators encourage the children to negotiate, debate and discuss new and different possibilities around food.

The worlds of worms and children begin to converge.

No fuzzies

No seeds

No peels and no onions

“No fuzzy scraps to the worms.” – Don

“They can’t eat fuzzy because it’s not good for their mouth.” – Heather

“The fuzzies aren’t good for their bellies.” –  Cindy

“Worms can’t have seeds. It will make them sick, so we have to shake them from the food scraps.” – Cindy

“Sometimes bread has seeds.” – Heather

“Worms can’t have oranges or onions or seeds.” – Carol

“Sometimes bread has seeds.” – Heather

“Worms can’t have oranges or
onions or seeds.” – Carol

“No spicey peppers.” – Heather

“Worms cannot have seeds…it will make them sick, so we have to shake them from the food scraps.” – Don

“Worms can have peppers, but we have to get the seeds off.” – Cindy

“That piece is too big. You have to break it apart. They can’t have the green part because it’s too hard.” – Cindy

Caring for worms, just like when we feed the outdoor composter and gather seeds for the seed bank, requires paying careful attention to the specificities of food waste. 

Responding to Cindy’s and Don’s ideas, we separate the food into three clear bins: compost food, vermicompost food, and seed preservation. Daily and weekly rituals emerge. Each day we negotiate which food scraps belong to each bin, and at the end of the week, we share the scraps with the worms in the vermicomposter, give the seeds to the seed group and take a walk to the outdoor composter for all the rest of the scraps. We slowly bring together divergent worlds that become enmeshed as we think with food scraps as much more than waste. 

Feeding time opens up moments of noticing the complexity of worms’ lives.  Children notice that sometimes the food is stinky and that worms do not have teeth. 

“They don’t have teeth; they have 
to grow them.”
– Heather

Children’s worlds and worm worlds become even more entangled when children see their leftovers becoming worm food rather than forgettable trash. 

“We need to check on the worms. We have to feed them.”  – Carol

Children and educators gather to carefully prepare the food for the worms. We blend the scraps we separated.

“The food is getting smaller.” – Cindy

We create small bundles of blended food scraps and preserve it in the freezer for future feeding.

“It’s stinky.”
– Cindy

Along with stink comes fuzzies. Children worry that the fuzzies might be harmful to the worms. Multiple theories emerge through discussions. 

“We have to get all the blue, all the blue mold.” – Don

Don painstakingly sorts through the moldy and damp worm world to remove all the blue fuzzies so the worms can remain healthy. 

“Worms can’t have fuzzies.” – Louisa
“We have to wash the fuzzies off.” – Heather
“We can scrape the fuzzies off.” – Heather
Fuzzies go in the other bowl.” – Cindy

Removing the fuzzies elicits a conversation about our response-abilities toward these creatures.

Over several weeks children and educators experiment with different food preparation techniques as a possible way to avoid fuzzies.  

Through these experimentations we collectively develop a sense of community with the world. We discuss what it means to be in relation with the worms, to care for them as they care for us. 


Lingering together deepens worm-child relations. As children notice worms’ motions, they wonder what it is like to move like worms. Through drawing we explore the worms’ motions. 

Children zoom in even closer to the worm world as educators project the microscopic particles of the vermicomposter on the wall. Suddenly tiny worlds are huge, and we invite the children to draw with charcoal and pencil.

“The worms have batteries to make them go fast.” – Carol
“They’re just tiny batteries.” – Cindy
“They’re wriggling. They’re trying to get out.” – Carol

Paying close attention,
the children make charcoal
marks mimicking the
movements of the worms. 

“I like the little worms because 
they are slow.” – Cindy

Embodied Worm Movements

We embody the worms’ movements, choreographing what it is to be and live like worms. Newspaper “blankets” cover bodies as children recreate worm movements of wiggle, squirm, stillness, crawl quickly, roll over, and hide. 

“Can you breathe?” – Cindy​

“It’s dark in here.”  – Nina​

“I’m gonna cover your tail.” – Cindy

“Worms like the dark.” – Carol

“The paper keeps the light out because worms need to be in the dark.”  – Carol

“I think they need a new blanket.”  – Louisa

From drawing to whole body movements

“Cover the worm with paper to keep it warm.” – Pierre

Extending Louisa’s suggestions that the worms
need new blankets, we rip newspaper. 

“There’s a lot of worms. I found another one!” – Louisa

Separating the worms from their castings is slow and meticulous. There are many worms hiding, and the tiny ones are hard to find.

World making with worms means the children must work slowly and intentionally to pluck each wriggly worm from the pile and move it to another bucket filled with clean soil.

The process of creating
the new blankets 

The children carefully rip, tear and shred the newspapers into many colourful strips. They gently place the shredded paper over the fresh bedding and food scraps.

After the worms are settled in their clean bedding, we place some fresh newspaper over top as a new blanket for the worms. 

Creating and Embodying Worm Stories
Storying the life of worms

The Never-Ending Story of the Very Hungry Worms

There once was a group of very hungry worms.

One day when the worms were very hungry, they climbed all the way up to the top of the worm bin because they wanted to eat food scraps.
They cannot buy food scraps at the grocery store.
The food scraps come from Chef Miriam and Charlotte and sometimes us after snack time, and we keep all the scraps in the fridge.
Well, picture this!
At night when all the children had gone home and the lights had all been turned off, the
worms wiggled to the top of the bin, pushed the lid open, and slithered down the other side.
They slithered over to the fridge, climbed all the way up to the handle of the fridge and opened it with their squirmy, little bodies. 
Once the fridge was opened the worms grabbed the food scraps with their small, secret worm mouths and slid back down to the floor. 
When all the worms got back to the floor in a large slithery group, they carried the food scraps to the bin on their backs. 
They crawled all the way back up the outside of the bin and dropped the food scraps down into the bottom of the bin… 
Some of the worms decided to go on another adventure. 
21 worms crawled up the stairs with their squirmy bodies. 
The worms broke the door to open it! 
The next day Cindy and Carol saw them on the driveway and brought them to the garden… 

The story lives in a digital journal. Each time we have an idea, Maureen writes it down in this journal.  

Illustrating the Story with Embodied Movements

Cameron, Cindy, and Don embody each movement they utter: sliding on the floor, opening the fridge, and sliding back to the bucket:
“The worms show us their bodies on the side of the bin.”
“Their bellies are little but then big after they eat.”
​”But I need a costume.”
 “Then they climb all the way up and open the fridge.”
“They slither across the floor like this.”

The children make worm marks with squiggly lines; they make casting marks in circular motions. 

Slow movements become movements of frenzy. 

We read the story daily, reminding ourselves of its intricate happenings. Children extend their speculative ideas through the stories. 

“How do they get the lid…How do they open the lid?” – Heather
“With the squiggly stuff, like they do on the fridge/part of them.” – Don 
“So, they can push.” – Heather

Illustrating the Story Through Collaborative

Because we are accustomed to reading stories alongside images, we imagine the story through illustrations. The process of drawing allows us to add details to the story. Furthermore, we return to our photographs to help us draw. 

“Dirt is brown and castings are black.” – Cindy
“See, the worms have a little bit of orange in them.” – Pierre

Illustrating the Story Through the Art of Paper Folding

We fold the strips accordion-style to give the worms a livelier 3D effect.  The children take their time learning how to fold the papers to create bouncy worms and begin to colour them. ​ The motions of paper folding invite unlikely child-worm relations.

Becoming Worms
Little fingers transform paper strips into tiny bundles with each crinkle and fold. 
Once the folding is done and fingers let go, the paper worms spring to life.

The paper worms migrate toward their paper worm bin.

Illustrating the Story Through Clay Art 

We decide to add more 3-dimensional illustrations to the story with plasticine. 

We closely study the worm bin, our photos, and our previous drawings to create this illustration. 
We use plasticine to create a replica of the bottom of the worm bin.

The first layer of the worm world is placed on the board. The paper worms become part of the process as they “make castings” for the piece. 

We use plasticine to create worms as a way to bring the worm world to life. Plasticine invites us to notice the shape, colour and texture of the worms.

“I need red and pink!” – Carol
“Some worms have orange on them.” – Don

We continuously  reference photographs, paper worms, and drawings to create plasticine worms.

The entangled positioning of the plasticine worms creates the illusion of wiggles and squirms. 

The worms are gently pressed onto the board of castings to create the next layer of the worm world. 

“The worm bin has newspaper and ours doesn’t, so we need to get some in it.” – Pierre

Storying Otherwise Worm Worlds

Creating Worm Neighbourhoods with Blocks

The children move the paper worms in and out of each of their worm houses. They visit each other for worm play dates.  

Don experiments with building a worm car so the worms can move around and visit each other. 

“Worms don’t like the light.” – Don
“They need a lid!” – Pierre
“The worm is hiding!” – Louisa

“This is a worm car.” – Don
“This is my worm home” – Carol

“We need a worm bucket for our worm world.” – Pierre

“The worm bin has a lid because the worms don’t like the light.” – Cameron

“So, the bin needs to have a lid for the worm world.” – Cindy

As the children create the 3D clay art worm bin, they discuss turning the ‘dark room’ into a giant worm bin. 

We work for several days to curate a worm room. We dedicate the entire ‘dark room’ to create an immersive worm bin. Charlotte records the story on the iPod so the children can play the story on demand.

Charlotte digitizes and laminates the children’s drawings into translucent worms, castings, eggs, and food scraps to use on the light table.​

We include the clay and paper worms, and we put newspapers up all over the walls. ​

Cutouts of the worm story sit on the light table. We invite the children to engage in worm storying as they listen to the recorded story. 

The light table turns on.

“The worms don’t like the light.” – Heather

Paper worms and children begin to tell the story of the worms. 

“Some yummy grass, chomp chomp chomp.” – Carol

“Worms need pillows and blankets.” – Pierre

“This is their bed, but it doesn’t have pillows.” – Carol

Newspaper becomes the bed for the worms to rest on. The darkest corner of the room becomes a play space for the worms.

“If they go in here, there will be no light.” – Pierre

“When they see the light, they will slither back out.” – Don

“It’s a worm museum.” – Don
“Maybe that’s what we should call it.” – Pierre

The children become closely acquainted with worms through their play in the museum.
The stories of our work over the past several months make up this space.
We curate the museum to hold space for the children’s story of the worms. 

Pedagogical Gestures

Through this inquiry with worms, children attend to the transformation of food waste through vermicomposting. Children study the circular and never-ending processes of worms turning food waste into rich castings that are then returned to the earth to promote new growth. Exploring these processes builds caring child-worm relations. Children actively engage in world making with worms through speculative story making to explore the liveliness of worms and the importance of food waste.