The first step in this process was making sure that the principal of the school was on board with this plan. It is not an uncommon practice in my district for preschool teachers to hatch baby chicks in their classrooms, so there was precedent for having this activity happen in the school. We decided it would not be the best idea to keep the baby chicks in any kind of open-air container after they hatched, given allergies and other health concerns, so we made arrangements prior to the incubation for any chicks to go to new homes pretty soon after hatching. Our community in North Andover does allow for homes to keep “urban chickens”, so we reached out to a few families we knew already had chickens in order to make sure the baby chicks went to good homes. Between myself, a fellow teacher, and a nurse, we had homes for all potential chicks …even though you’re not supposed to count them before they hatch. Consider looking up what your community’s guidelines are regarding backyard chickens and make sure to read up on the state guidelines as well (“Massachusetts Law about Backyard Chickens”).
Our principal gave the all-clear, which meant the next step was acquiring eggs and an incubator. I had a ProSeries Digital Incubator that I had previously brought in from home, but comparable incubators can be found on Amazon or at a local hardware or farm supply store. Most incubators should be set at a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and should maintain a humidity range of between 40 to 50 percent depending upon your incubator’s specifications and the location in which you’re storing the incubator. What is interesting to note is that according to the University of Nebraska, “a temperature of 102°F increased successful hatching rates [perhaps] because students and teachers open the lids of the incubators to work with the eggs more than in a typical situation. If you are not opening the incubator in a classroom setting, follow the temperature instructions for your incubator model” (“Guidelines for Successfully Incubating Chickens”). A colleague who wanted a particular breed of chicken for her own flock purchased fertilized eggs from Meyer Hatchery that were delivered in a large container and delicately packaged.
The 21 day wait from when the eggs went into the incubator to when they began to hatch was the most confounding factor for the students who entered the library. “Are the chickens here?” was a constant refrain. However, it allowed us to have conversations about the life cycle of chickens. As a district that has recently adopted the Wit and Wisdom framework, grade level learning had been focused on topics regarding biological systems in different species, and students came in with background knowledge of animal life cycles. For example, first graders came in with questions about how baby chicks are made after studying the life cycles of seahorses earlier in the year. This background gives them the ability to ask higher level inquiry questions, such as “What food does the baby chick eat while it’s inside the egg?” or “When do they develop their grown-up feathers?”. We used National Geographic’s book What’s In That Egg? to help answer lots of our questions, and titles like Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball? to continue the fun when discussing fiction titles.
Finally, the day arrived– some of the shells began to crack! The classes that saw it were so excited that we quickly realized that live-streaming to the entire school would be the best way to share the event. As our district uses Google Suite apps to facilitate learning, we very quickly and easily were able to set up a YouTube live stream. By connecting an external document camera and clicking “Create” on my YouTube homepage, I was able to stream and link to all of the classrooms in our school. Teachers were able to tune in to the livestream at their own convenience, and many reported how convenient it was to have something relatively quiet that was very exciting to watch, especially during our week of state testing. YouTube’s built-in livestream feature archives all of your streams to be viewed as normal YouTube videos after streaming has ended, allowing students and teachers to watch and rewind at their leisure. If you’re interested, feel free to watch at home using this link!
It’s safe to say this idea was one of my more chaotic library activities; however, it has turned out to be one of the most impactful. The entire school was enthralled by the baby chicks as they hatched. As most of the baby chicks began to hatch the week before April break, teachers commented that having the chicks to “tune in to” created moments of quiet during hectic times. Students who needed breaks during the school day could come down to the library to watch the chicks as they hatched with their teachers. Many students felt compelled to add some artwork to the space surrounding the incubator “for the chicks”. It was, in short, the talk of the school, and helped both students, teachers, and administrators recognize that the library space is for far more than just book selection. Students came to the library outside of their normal library class times to find informational texts on the life cycles of chickens (one class even did a project creating a diagram of the interior of an egg!), they talked to their friends and teachers and parents about what they saw on the live stream, and it created a shared experience for the entire school to bond over.
The baby chicks moved in to a large container at the high school where they were used as part of genetics lessons in my husband’s biology classes. Now many of them are safe and sound in our coop at home. The students still ask about them, and the craze for all things chicken has yet to abate, weeks later. They have moved into the “big girl” coop, and every week before library class begins I share an update on how they are doing. If you find yourself with the time and resources to be able to recreate this activity, I highly recommend it! However, your library could do something similar with a less-care-intensive animal– say a live-streamed fish tank or a bird feeder in the window. Bringing positive attention to your library space in an interactive way, while simultaneously supporting curriculum and science inquiry, is always a good idea.