The academic and social-emotional benefits of caring for chickens at school has been on Jessica Hagen's mind for years. As our Outdoor Science Education & Elementary Coordinator, she's been excited to finally introduce chickens into The Montessori School Elementary program. The lessons have been plentiful and exciting, to say the least!
"Caring for chickens is relatively easy. The cost is minimal and the rewards are plenty. Around five years ago, a small group of students showed interest in raising chickens at TMS. My family had chickens throughout my childhood and I loved them, so I was entirely on board with the student project proposal. However, there were some logistical barriers and the chicken project was stalled. Fast forward to 2022. The pandemic was hard on everyone and we recognized that we all needed extra emotional support. That's where Uncle Jim, Invisible, Marshmallow, '55 Cadillac, Popcorn, and Snowball come in. Note: the chickens each have about ten names, but these names seem to be repeated most often. The chicks spent a week in my apartment and then I moved them to the classroom where we raised them until they were ready to move to the coop outdoors. While indoors the chickens enjoyed being sung to, read to, oohed and aahed over, observed, and hand fed. We added curricular elements to daily chicken observations and voila, we have a multitude of important practical life lessons and are able to observe the obvious calming and therapeutic effect the chickens had on both the students and staff. The chickens bring us so much joy!
One student in particular, has really taken interest in learning to care for the chickens. Emily, age 9, has been holding and talking to these chickens since day one. Only a few children will confidently pick up and hold the chickens, and Emily has shown a big interest. She says that having chickens at school makes her days at school better than usual. "They're fluffy. It feels really good to have them here." Emily is responsible for feeding them, checking for eggs, and helping clean up after them. She even gives lessons independently to other students who are interested in learning to care for the chickens.
Henry, age 9, recently expressed an interest in the chickens so Emily spent part of the morning teaching him how to check for and remove eggs. Emily patiently coached him through it and noted, "Joey Ramone, our rooster, is usually right there when we go to take them. He's protective of the eggs." Jessica adds that this what they hoped for when they added a rooster to the flock recently.
Emily adds, "I took the last batch of eggs home, and we cooked and ate them!" Emily's parents see endless benefits of having access to chickens at school. Her dad, Jim, shares:
The chicken stories coming home are endlessly entertaining. Moreover, they show Emily’s growth in so many ways. Obviously, we’re learning a lot of new chicken facts. Green eggs? Who knew? Even cooking- she made us breakfast the other morning. But it goes beyond that. Stewardship and empathy. Taking care of those chickens really matters to her… understanding what their needs are, what their personalities are, and kind of their core chicken-ness. Responsibility. She understands the importance of taking proper care. She knows they need her attention to thrive and survive. It matters to her. Peer leadership and mentorship. She loves helping her friends properly handle the chickens and care for them. And pride. Not boastful, rather knowing she has accomplished a stretch challenge. She recognizes she is growing, and doing good in the world.
Jessica notes that Emily, with Henry's assistance, will track the daily egg count. They'll notice there will soon be less eggs as we get less light. "We layer in a ton of other curricular components- egg life cycle, chicken life cycle, anatomy, anything you can think of that connects."
Henry says he's excited to learn more and get to be part of daily chicken tasks. "I love having them here and would not like it if they left."