Dawn Swartz, a second-grade teacher at Grace Lutheran School, was sitting at her desk early one afternoon, catching up on emails while her students were in their P.E. class, when she heard a small squeak. A few minutes earlier, her shoe made a similar noise, but that first noise was different. It was a chirp.
She froze to listen again before running to the incubator. Sure enough, her chicks were hatching. She ran to get her students so they could see the miracle unfold. The chicks, the ones they had been carefully watching for 21 days, were ready to bust out of their shells.
Hatching chicks is a tradition at Grace Lutheran School. The previous second grade teacher started getting eggs from a family farm to show the kids exactly how life begins. One time, she accidentally got duck eggs—a surprise when they started growing up into a different bird from what everyone expected—but the lesson in life was still the same.
When Dawn took over as second grade teacher, she continued the tradition.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking,” Dawn said. “You get the eggs, and it’s that first week that you’re anxiously awaiting (to see) whether there’s life inside or not.”
Chickens in Creation
Grace Lutheran’s teaching revolves around the Bible. In second grade, students get their first Bible, so Dawn spends several weeks talking about how God created the world and everything in it in seven days.
“As a Christian school, we know that we stand strong on the word of God,” Dawn said. “So we know that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. It is true. There is nothing falsified in it.”
In the spring—the perfect time to talk about new life—Dawn goes back to that creation story to show students how life is formed.
“Everything was laid out for us to sustain life, so when we talk about the chickens, we get to see how, when you crack open an egg, there’s a yoke inside,” Dawn said. “You can’t see that life (from the outside), but we know that He has created all things to reproduce, to make new.”
Caroline, one of the second graders in Dawn’s class, puts the tips of her fingers together then puts her hands on top of her head to form a beak. She nosedives into the desk, tapping her finger nails on the hard surface, showing the others exactly what it looked like for the chicks they had been watching when they finally cracked out of their shells. The students saw it happen, but they still talk about how the tiny creatures looked when they first saw sunlight.
Most of the kids at Grace Lutheran come from the city where they don’t have a lot of first-hand animal experience outside of dogs and cats. That’s why it’s so important to expose them to a little bit of farm life early on.
“It’s a good learning experience for the kids,” Dawn said. “Especially in the city, they don’t get the life skills of getting to see animals grow up from the beginning of life.”
The second graders are already anxious to hold the chicks. It’s understandable since the little birds are almost too cute to handle. When the chicks get a little older and their immune systems are stronger, the students will take them outside to play—another lesson in handling animals.
Logic and Responsibility
Another big part of this science unit is learning responsibility, Dawn said. If you pick up a chick after your teacher tells you not to, then there’s a chance you’ll get pooped on. It’s an if/then reasoning Dawn teaches her students.
Since it is so tough to explain logic to a second grader, Dawn uses the chickens to explain how God gave her students the ability to make good choices.
“God has given everything what it needs to sustain life,” Dawn said. “A chicken has instincts. All animals have instincts. We have reason. We have logical thinking … but animals have to have instincts to survive…The kids get to watch them find their food.”
It’s more than following instructions. By watching the chickens interact with each other, Dawn teaches the students how they can work together. In a culture where bullying is more and more prevalent, it’s important to start early teaching kids how to be kind to one another. The chicks provide a tangible example of how they can work together.
“We take care of each other,” Dawn said. “We support each other. Chickens do also. They build nests together. They make sounds so they can protect each other.”
In case you were wondering, after the unit is over, the chicks will go back to a wonderful Grace Lutheran family’s land where they will live happily ever after producing eggs for a family and their friends.
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