It should not be believed that all the beings exist for the sake of humanity. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes, and not for the sake of something else. (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 456)
“But Miss Paula! There’s one still alive!” Sixteen pairs of concerned eyes gazed up at me expectantly. Looking closely, I saw that one worm out of a thousand still remained in the shipping box, whereas its fellows were happily ensconced in their new worm bin. The worm was trying to get out of the light and I couldn’t dislodge it from the seam of the box. “That’s okay—I’ll just take it home and put it in my compost bin.” Or, I thought, just chuck the box, worm and all, in my recycle bin.
What, in a child’s eyes, is as mysterious as a worm? It sort of looks alive, and wiggles gently when you hold it, but you can’t see it breathe and it doesn’t seem to have any cute little eyes or nose. And yet, the children of Congregation Beth Shalom’s Early Learning Center were so reverent with these creatures as we set up the worm bin. They eagerly recited a b’racha praising God’s creative ability as we welcomed the worms to their new home.
They took turns holding the worms and then carefully placed them in the bedding. The children well understood that these industrious creatures are completely dependent on them for shelter and sustenance. There are one thousand worms to the pound and every one was important to the children!
Our young students are learning that by taking care of these worms, we will get fertilizer and compost for our native woodlands and prairie garden, and we will have a new way to recycle food scraps from home and shredded paper from the Congregation’s office, and that helps the world. But more importantly, the worms have something to teach us by just being their plain but mysterious selves. By tending them, we are learning how to give of ourselves and look at our roles on the earth in a new way.
Carrying the box to my truck near the synagogue’s garden area, I experienced a change of heart. I gently tapped that worm out onto the earth. It had a job to do.
Such was the exciting, and poignant, start to Congregation Beth Shalom’s Early Learning Center worm bin project. By digging the dirt, and tearing the newspapers, and carefully placing food for the worms into the bin, the three, four, and five year olds that make up our Alef Bet class have created their own microcosm of our world, a vibrant, exciting, self-sustaining worm bin.
It has been said that children this young cannot quite grasp the abstract concepts of being responsible for taking care of our planet and the creatures that inhabit it. But the children of our Alef Bet class have enthusiastically risen to the challenge. They know that each and every one of them can, and do, make a difference every single day. We are growing our children, and, keeping our world growing right along with them....
Questions for Thought and Discussion:
Paula Fraser, member of the Tikkun Olam Committee at Congregation Beth Shalom, Naperville, Illinois, is owner of a landscaping company and has always enjoyed teaching about plants and environmental concerns. Paula lives in Naperville with her husband Dan and is the proud mom of Erica and Benjie.
Robin Frisch, Director and Head Teacher of the Gan Yeladim Early Learning Center at Congregation Beth Shalom, has worked for over twenty-five years with children and their families in schools, children’s museums, and community settings. Robin is currently a candidate for a Masters of Science degree in Child Development from Erikson Institute in Chicago. She also tries hard to recycle everything possible at home and at school, and when she doesn’t her young students quickly remind her to do so!