Bringing Nature (Mealworms) to the Classroom


 “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature (p.159, 2005)." This is one of my favorite quotes from, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. This book is an important reminder of what many of us have come to accept as fact; the idea that our country’s children are losing touch with the simple wonders of our world. Children are the future of this planet, so their escalating detachment from nature is of great concern—especially in light of the current insect crisis indicating a massive decline in numbers. If we truly aim to help this planet, we must endeavor to connect our youngest population with nature to build a bridge to a future filled with hope.

With this in mind, as the creator of Serendipity (FB Group), I am vested in our members who bring nature to the classroom. We commend the teachers who raise caterpillars with their students; the ones who share the magical world of insects. We are grateful to the teachers who awaken the imagination of the children; the ones who tell the tale of the Monarch butterflies’ long journey to Mexico. Moreover, we are heartened by the educators who create school butterfly gardens; the ones who show students that seeds sprout into plants and hope. With this in mind, today's blog will focus on one group member’s inspirational story; a story of how the somewhat lowly mealworm is able to provide a unique and engaging learning environment, offer amazing therapeutic opportunities—and connect children to the natural world.

Michele Morgan is an Occupational Therapist and Transition Coordinator.  She works directly with elementary and high school students at Warren Woods Public Schools. The vision of their Special Services Department is to create a collaborative environment where all educators embrace every learner to successfully reach their full potential. As a self-described advocate for environmental education, Michele first became interested in mealworms in 2013. The mealworm, Tenebrio molitor, is actually the larval form of a flour beetle. The life cycle is as follows: Egg, larvae (mealworm), pupae, and imago (adult beetle).   

 life cycle

Photo by Michele Morgan depicting the life-cycle of the mealworm.

After introducing mealworms, as an organic food for her own chickens and quail, Michele realized that these creatures could also be used as part of an engaging treatment modality for students with special needs. Mealworms are a good choice for schools: They are cold tolerant, they are easy to breed, and they do not require elaborate care. Moreover, mealworms have the unique ability to digest non-biodegradable expandable polystyrene foam (what we often call Styrofoam). This is a truly fascinating environmental concept well-worth exploring within an educational setting. Armed with her knowledge and several donated plastic bins, the mealworms headed to school with Michele.

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