What if kids grew up with a fun learning experience in animal care, budgeting, food production, project planning, municipal codes, carpentry, marketing, recycling, interdependence, anatomy, chemistry, and so on? What if they grew up with a greater respect for where food comes from, how it’s produced, and the importance of quality over quantity? I think your everday basic laying hen could provide the foundation for all these lessons, and do so in a way that kids would get into.
Lots of classrooms incubate eggs and hatch chicks. The chicks get to a certain age, and then they are usually given away. End of lesson.
But what if a curriculum was based on the entire process of hatching, raising, and keeping chickens? Obviously parents would have to be involved, permission slips sent out, etc. At the beginning of the school year, parents would have to commit to the process, as they’d be involved with setting up a backyard coop and run, and ultimately responsible for the hens (like any pet bought for a child). Once the number of committed households was sorted out, the teacher could plan an egg order, with maybe 2 hens per participant, to incubate. Then the class could start planning living space for their hens. There are a lot of websites dedicated to backyard flocks these days, so information should be abundant. Or if this was an actual part of a school curriculum, maybe schools would provide a standardized coop/run kit the kids would assemble, rather than build from scratch. Maybe kids who lived in apartments or whose parents didn’t want to participate could partner with other kids and help with research and building and chicken care.
But think of the lessons that could be integrated into the whole process –
-biology; how eggs develop and hatch, how chicks grow and make eggs, the role of roosters and why one isn’t needed for backyard hen-keeping, etc.
-chemistry; why do hens need grit, the importance of calcium in shell formation, the composition of chicken poop and how it fertilizes plants.
-ecology; the cycle of feeding a chicken which not only makes human food, but makes fertilizer which helps grow more chicken/human food, and so on.
-budgeting; teach kids how to work out the cost per egg. Kids could sell eggs to their parents or neighbors, learning marketing skills in he process.
-healthy food production; factory farmed eggs vs. backyard raised, why one is better in terms of nutrition and animal welfare and human health.
-project planning; researching local animal laws, best coop design and placement, materials purchasing.
-climate patterns; where the sun/prevailing wind hits their yard and how that impacts the comfort of their hens.
-animal care; researching store-bought chicken chow over home-mixed, forming relationships with another living being, etc.
Hopefully by the time the school year ended, most kids would have a happy, healthy laying flock at home. They’d make smart choices about food, have empathy for other beings, have a grounding in economics, some pride in helping provide homegrown food for their households, have the confidence of building a habitat with their own hands, maybe even branch out into gardening with the fertilizer their hens produce, or teaching other people how to start their own flock.
Even if an idea like this never made it into a school system, it still might be something worth pursuing as an extra-curricular program, after-school group, summer program, etc. A skilled grant-writer and a motivated school could pioneer this project and develop a model curriculum for other schools.