Counting Our Chickens Before They Hatch
By Adrienne Lomangino, Head Teacher
We waited, and waited, and waited. Day after day, we crossed off another number on the chicken calendar in East PM. This year our patience certainly was rewarded! We hatched 31 chicks. “It’s a chick party in there!” a child aptly exclaimed. Hatching chicks has not only drawn children’s attention to the wonders of nature, but has provided opportunities to integrate different areas of learning and development.
Before the chicks hatched, children shared their knowledge and ideas about chicks, chickens and chick development inside the egg. They also drew pictures of what they thought the chicks would look like. During the hatching days, children counted how many chicks had hatched, and how many had not. After the chicks hatched, children drew more pictures, which in several cases contrasted with their images of what they had initially thought the chicks would look like.
The chicks varied in coloring, size and plumage patterns. The children were especially fascinated by the Turken, a cross between a chicken and a turkey, which has a featherless neck. The diversity of appearance provided the opportunity for children to express and examine their assumptions about chicks. For example, while watching the chicks in the brooder during the second week, Maya raised the question about the black and brown chicks: “When will the others turn yellow?” Other children offered ideas about whether or not the chicks would change color. While the chicks’ feathering did change, the dark chicks never turned yellow.
Each day, children and parents commented in amazement about how fast the chicks were growing. A common question—one we never did answer—was “How did they get so big?” Other observations included, “One looks silly like an emu” and “one stretched his leg like human gymnastics.” They also offered theories to explain the chicks’ behavior, such as Tommy’s comment: “The chicks have wings, but they can’t fly yet so they just flap them.” After Adonis noted that a chick was sleeping, Maya explained: “It’s tiring to get out of an egg.”
While many children watched the chicks, some children also enjoyed taking photographs of them. The act of photographing and reviewing the image encouraged examination of the chicks’ behavior, with observations such as: “They’re all curled up,” “Another cute picture,” “One is bumping the other one” and “It’s like a little village of chicks.”
Besides making visual observations, we measured the chicks’ height and weight. After initially using a digital scale to weigh the chicks, we used a balance, with a chick on one side and blocks on the other. (The chicks were remarkably amenable to this teeter totter experience.) Several children planned their own investigations using the balance. Daniel E. suggested putting a chick on each side, hypothesizing that the balance would be even. However, the balance tipped in one direction. “They’re not the same!” he exclaimed.
Exploration of chickens and eggs included reading and generating both nonfictional and fictional texts. The text, The Life of a Chicken, proved a valuable resource on chick development. We also read narratives at story time involving chickens and eggs. Children expressed their knowledge about chicks and chickens, and also created collaborative narratives. Several children thought up songs, and even created a dance, about the chicks.
Although the children had limited prior experience with chickens, they revealed impressive knowledge about the chicken-and-egg life cycle. They described the eggs as coming from chickens, and more specifically from female chickens. As Ella explained, “The mama chickens came from the farm. The mama chicken laid the eggs and the eggs hatched and it happens over and over again.”
Once children had the opportunity to observe and touch the chicks, an interesting shift occurred in their descriptions. During snack time, a child referred to “the chick without fur on its neck.” This comment prompted the teacher to inquire whether the chicks had feathers or fur on their bodies. Most of the children thought the chicks had both feathers and fur, particularly those children who had touched the chicks. While perhaps seeming like a misconception, this view revealed their close attention to the chicks’ plumage. The downy feathering of the chicks was soft and fluffy, while the plumage emerging on the chicks’ wings had a more defined feather shape.
During the chicks’ second and third weeks in the classroom, the children constructed “playgrounds” for the chicks out of craft sticks, cardboard tubes and other found materials. They also built enclosures of blocks for the chicks on the grass. While some children enjoyed watching the chicks from outside, others were eager to handle the chicks. This was an exercise in patience, coordination and control. They learned to squat low, move quietly and close their hands around the chick, gently but firmly.
Since the children had not had a chance to see the chicks reach maturity, Featherstick, one of the chickens that we hatched in East Room last year, came to visit. Children gathered around the enclosure, watching her move and listening to her cluck, eager to have a turn to pet her. Then Featherstick gave us an unexpected gift. While Ben was sitting calmly in the enclosure with her, Featherstick’s behavior changed dramatically. Instead of keeping her distance from people, she repeatedly approached Ben, pushing at him with her head and climbing onto his lap. Soon after Ben assured the teachers that he was fine and wanted to stay in the enclosure, Featherstick stepped away from him and crouched down. When she stood up again, a pale egg lay in the grass!
The children’s reactions revealed their attentiveness to the recent hatching process. They immediately suggested that we put the egg in an incubator. Then, they continued, we needed to make a new chicken calendar, ask Buffy to bring the brooder back, as well as the microscope with a light for looking inside the eggs. Admittedly, the importance of fertilization was overlooked, however that had not been part of the children’s experiences with hatching.
Although we had hatched chicks in East room before, this year we also had an incubator with emu eggs. During all of this activity with the chicks, we continued marking off the days on our emu calendar. Emu incubation time is 50-56 days, a long time in the life of a young child. Waiting for the emus to hatch has provided many opportunities to practice counting how many days we have waited, and how many days are left to hatching. Children have also expressed their emotions about this protracted waiting experience, from the joy of “we’re getting closer!” to “feeling frustrated” that they have not hatched.
The addition of these very different eggs provided many opportunities for comparing and contrasting these types of birds and elaborating on emerging understandings. When asked to express their ideas and questions about emus, children revealed relevant, specific knowledge. Their questions included: How do the emus grow their feathers? How fast do they run? Why do emus have blue eggs? What do they look like when they first hatch? How do they grow up?
In the final days of spring quarter we waited hopefully for the emus to hatch. The final day in the hatching window came and went without a pip. Thus, our hatching experiences ended with a lesson in the vagaries of nature. Given the weeks of anticipation, the children coped remarkably well. Amelia B. even reflected, “It was our first time,” elaborating that sometimes you can’t do something when you try it for the first time. Further reflecting the hope and optimism that we treasure in young children, Delaney shared with the class, “Last night I was dreaming one of the emus hatched. I was there to watch it. At the end of school all the emus hatched. The next day we got to hold the emu.”