A Primer on Hatching and Raising Chicks in School
Though I am mostly a farmer now, my training is in Montessori early childhood education. Raising chicks in the classroom is like the bringing together of my two big loves — farming and education. When a friend of mine, a fellow teacher, asked if our farm could be the final home of chicks she wanted to hatch with her students, I happily agreed. I was excited to be a part of the process with her and her students.
Programs that Support Hatching and Raising Chicks in the Classroom
There are many programs available for teachers who are interested in hatching chicks with their students. State universities with agriculture schools often provide training and supplies for free or at a minimal cost. Some 4-H groups do the same.
My friend, Mary Ann Miller, participated in a program through a local agency 4C for Children and the Ohio State University, called Chick Quest. She attended a full day training in October and in return was given supplies for hatching chicken eggs. Hers was one of four classrooms that had hatching egg projects in her school, Parker Woods Montessori. Another local Cincinnati Public School, Dater Montessori, had 10 rooms with incubators!
What is Usually Provided?
In the training, they provide the teacher with some basic information on raising chicks in the classroom. They show how to set up the incubator and how to do the experiments in the teaching manuals. Mary Ann found herself needing more information on how to actually hatch the eggs. Some outside reading will serve a teacher well to have success with the incubation process. You may need to teach yourself simple things like monitoring humidity and temperature for proper incubation and more complex topics like how to tell the sex of baby chicks.
Chick Quest provided an incubator, brooder box, bedding, food, water dish, and all of the materials for the experiments. They also supplied 25 student manuals and one teacher manual, which led the class through a series of experiments.
The incubator, loaned from Ohio State, had a viewing window on top so the kids could watch the eggs throughout the process. One of the experiments had the teacher buy eggs from the grocery store near the end of incubation; the students were able to hold one grocery store egg and one incubated egg to feel the weight difference of the chick inside.
Mary Ann created a number of additional Montessori materials to supplement her students’ knowledge of chickens and make the experience of raising chicks in the classroom a rich learning process. They discussed the life cycle of a chicken, breeds, how to take care of chickens, the farm to table process, chicken vocabulary, and parts of a chicken.
“There were approximately 10 works. I introduced two works every week until all the lessons were presented. Students also did non-fiction writing, creative writing, chicken graphing, and chicken word problems to tie in with the curriculum,” she said.
Chickens provide a rich subject area that fits in with so many areas of the curriculum.
Mary Ann was amazed at how well her students did with the incubation process, even when things got tough. When first studying chickens, they talked about a life cycle. She explained that there was a chance not all of the eggs would hatch.
After 21 days, six of the 13 eggs hatched but only two survived. The first one died within 24 hours and the second one wasn’t strong enough to make it much longer than that. Many of us who have incubated eggs before know there can be a steep learning curve. Though Mary Ann tried to educate herself beyond the information provided at the training — something went wrong.
The kids were sad but understood the life cycle and buried the chicks in the schoolyard. They were also lucky enough to have five chicks donated from friends at Dater Montessori.
Once hatched, the students sat around the rug and let the chicks run around inside their circle. As they got older, they also had a chance to hold a chick every day during school hours and got a chance to play with them on the rug.
The Greatest Lesson Learned
“Students learned about patience when waiting 21 days for their eggs to hatch. Students learned about death and how it impacts them. Students learned about caring for another living creature. Students learned about kindness, as the chickens were donated to our room by students across the city that had never even met us. And we also learned how to write friendly letters when we sent all of our thank you notes,” said Mary Ann.
Best Advice: Find a Local Resource so You Can Ask Questions!
Mary Ann said that her first year raising chicks in the classroom was definitely a learning experience. She was not 100 percent sure about the incubation process, how long a chick needed to stay in the incubator after hatching, and what to do with her brooder box. Another teacher at her school had a chick drown while drinking water. She found it invaluable to have another teacher in her school that had gone through the program before and knew how to hatch chicken eggs.
If you don’t have any resources in your school, seek out a local farmer that you can call with questions. A local feed store in your area might be able to help connect you or you can try doing a search for chicken eggs on a site like agrilicious.com. Many teachers have found our farm this way, by looking for information.