Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Forest Terrarium for Snails:
Dialogues with Place, Space, and Time

The Spark:  
Viewing the forest in miniature evokes images of tiny, magical creature living their lives out in places that are not usually observed by most people within the everyday bustle of human life.  This forest terrarium for snails, albeit small with respects to the vast expanse of land, rocks, moss and other woodland features, offers a peek into the life of a tiny earthly creature that can be found in most neighbourhoods at this time year, the humble but beautiful snail.  Springtime evokes a feeling of youth, of reawakening, of rebirth and renewal.  We are just in time to witness these tiny creatures wake up from their winter slumber and to create dialogues between children in place (the snail burrowing in the soil in nearby nature), space (the woodland terrarium), and time (springtime.)

Follow us as we embark on this this learning journey as the environment truly becomes the third teacher and authentic connections are forged between the child in place, space, and time.

Say hello to Shelby...

This is Shelby in his forest terrarium.  We found Shelby after he was caught in a very turbulent whirl in our salad spinner.  The salad was removed and consumed and there lay Shelby, a little tattered and worn.  Was he alive?  We created this woodland terrarium, went on an outdoor safari to find other snails (land snails), placed them all in the terrarium and waited.  Then we saw this (see image above)... Shelby.... alive, well and on a slimy trek across the forest moss in his terrarium.

How to Assemble a Forest Terrarium for Snails:

1.  What you will need:

*  A clear glass terrarium with the largest diameter that you can find
(you will get the best results with a larger container as your terrarium will hold a capacity for a more varied landscape for your snails as well as create more interest for the children)
*  Small bedrocks  (you can find small rocks outdoors)
*  Snails (you can find land snails burrowing in the mud outdoors)
*  A bag of organic soil (at this time of year the forest soil may be too compacted and wet)
*  Moss and lichen
*  Forest plants such as ferns (research local vegetation for your area)
*  Fungi (We do not recommend that you come in contact with any fungi without the advice of an expert.  At this time of year there are no visible fruiting bodies in our local woodland so we purchased mushrooms at the local grocery store)
*  Natural elements found in nature (sticks, bark, rocks, stems...)
*  A fine mist atomizer
*  Water that has been sitting out at least twenty-four hours

2.  Begin lining the bottom of you terrarium with a layer of small bedrocks:

The layer of bedrock will help absorb any water in the soil as plants are watered and keep the soil from completely compacting.  Snails do not like the soil too wet.

3.  Land Formations:
When adding your soil this would be an opportune moment to learn about land formations and those found in a woodland setting.  For added interest, make sure you have elevated areas within your woodland design.

* Children can learn about land formations and can draw-out and plan a landscaping design for the snail terrarium.

4.  Add in the local plants, moss, rocks, bark, lichen, twigs, :  
Go on a nature walk to explore the flora in your local woodland.  Only collect living specimens of plants for you terrarium with the roots intact.  Do not add rotting or decaying green matter to you terrarium as it may increase the amount of time you need to change your soil.  Everything that you will be adding is slowly breaking down but some natural elements break down faster than others.  You can create a list of local flora in your woodland and highlight those that you think your snail might enjoy.    

If moss becomes too covered in slime from the snails tracks then remove and replace to keep the environment fresh.

5.  Add the snails:
Do not close off the terrarium with a lid unless it is propped-up to allow for air circulation.  Our terrarium has a lid but we do not restrict air circulation to our snails and we also leave it open to allow for free access to our fern plant that sits adjacent to the terrarium with overhanging leaves.  Since snails are nocturnal, we will be tracking their nightly forays into the forest terrarium and beyond.

6.  Watering:
Keep your terrarium plants and moss watered but not soaked.  Spray the insides of your terrarium daily so as to keep the atmosphere humid.  Use water that has been sitting for at least twenty-four hours as snails are very sensitive.  Snails do not need a water source but we do have a small, flat shell that we fill with water each day.

7.  Feeding:  
Snails love eating green leaves and fungi.  We add a fresh slice of mushroom daily and remove old slices.  We are also in the process of researching ways of providing fresh, living greens for our snails.  

8.  Returning your snail to the wild:
This terrarium should be considered a temporary living space for your snails.  Even though snails can live up to five years, I am sure they would prefer to live in a boundless and thriving natural environment as found in a woodland setting as they did not arrive in your terrarium as per their request.  Creating a ceremonial celebration on the day that the terrarium contents and their living inhabitants are returned to the wild is a wonderful way of showing respect and care for all living things and recognizing what they have shared with us and how much we have learned from them.  It also allows you to demonstrate an model empathy and care for all living beings.  For example, if you are assembling your terrarium now and want to work towards Earth Day and then decide how many weeks from that date you can mark a day for the celebration to occur.

Follow us as we embark on new discoveries and share in the joy of learning in an outdoor classroom...

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