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Arriving at the door of the preschool class I was working in the other day, I heard no voices, which I thought was odd. Usually you can hear their little voices all the way down the hall. So I opened the door, and 12 little faces looked up at me from around a low table. That table was covered with a white waterproof tablecloth, and bunches of dirt here and there. In each little pair of hands was a small plastic cup.

“Good morning, Miss Debbi”, the teacher greeted me happily, “We are all learning about earthworms.”

Okay, that explained the dirt. I then saw that each child had his or her chubby little fingers engaged around a live worm. The silence as they made their acquaintance with their individual worm was amazing. They were fully engaged. I came closer to see.

“Don’t worry, Miss D…they don’t bite. Worms don’t have no teeth,” one child grinned. Then it was quiet again. Clearly there was a lot of “worm love” here. After all, who wouldn’t want their very own living, fat, pink, and wiggly worm to hold and bend and squeeze? A real pet. In their eyes. But not in the plan of the teacher.

“No class, in a few minutes we are going to get ready for recess, and we will take our worms out to the playground and let them go!” A great adult plan. But it was blah, blah, blah to all the kids. They really did not hear that glorious idea about being careful to find a good spot near a tree, out of the footpath at the park, and not dropping them, etc.

Twelve little faces looked up at the teacher’s earnest face and clutched their worm property in their cup tightly. Imagine that parade of preschool kids with plastic cups in their hands headed to the playground, negotiating the dangers of steps, where an occasional earth worm fell from a cup, then solemnly crossing the street, and dashing into the playground, worm and all.

Now visualize the worm hunting kids from the other three preschool classes, at least twenty five of them, after the worms in cups that our class had. Run to save your worm … run, run, and hold it up high, and cover it with woodchips and grass and dirt, or put it up in a tree branch, and defend that worm. Run from teachers who want to remind you that we are definitely not bringing any worms back into the class!

Imagine a very long and dramatic recess, and return. It was earthworm justice. When it was time to return, there were tears on muddy little cheeks, screams of farewell, little wormy hands to hold all the reluctant way back across the street and up the stairs and down the hallway to the little cubby spaces they sit in to calm down. Ahh, the teachers were thinking, we made it through with no more worms ….

Not completely, however. A small dusty boy behind stuck a grubby little hand in his equally grubby back pocket and pushed its precious content back into the cubby space, beneath his hat. There you go – stay there,” he whispered to a wad of worm. Sweet. A worm defender to the very end. Guess one has to fight for what is his.