"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles,
elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade,
woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones,
rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been
deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education"
- Luther Burbank
At Little Owl, the outdoor classroom offers our children a myriad of experiences. Any part of the curriculum can happen inside or outside. Art, literacy, science, dramatic play, music, small and large motor skill activities all come outside to further the children's interests. The textures, smells, light and variety of spaces in the outdoors allows creativity to blossom and grow.
Natural play helps concentration and self-disipline, encourages in-depth play and promotes positive problem solving skills. Natural play is what children did in the past before so many media intrusions began replacing more and more outside play. Those pursuits included: climbing trees, building forts, making mud pies, playing in sand, watching a spider spin a web, jumping in leaves, discovering gravity through the flow of water, and recreating play space to suit needs over and over again.
Our vegetable garden and fruit trees offer children the opportunity to plant, nurture and understand the source of some of the food we eat. Working with teachers and our chef, these planting, harvesting and cooking experiences promote a respect of food and an interest in healthy eating.
The chicks came to Little Owl a year ago last May. After a disastrous three week attempt to hatch six eggs, Cathie and I made an emergency run to Blacksmith Corner in Bellflower and picked out six fluffy two day old chicks. We set up a cozy box with heating lamps and the the chick essentials in our conference room upstairs. Our little owls were introduced to their new friends in small groups. The huge smiles and soft whispers when the children were in caring for the chicks, learning how to gently hold them, were delightful to see. We did our research with the children through books, looking at lots of different real eggs including an ostrich and emu egg. They were on their way to becoming "chicken experts". The chicks grew and were soon able to be moved outside. A beautiful chicken coop was built by our talented carpenter, Christopher. About a year ago, we began to collect the beautiful assorted eggs our family of chickens provide us. The children named the chickens. Our black and white speckled hen is "Peter Pan", her glossy brown friend is "Wendy", the blacker Aracuna is "Super Chicken" , the browner one is "Brownie" and our white chicken was named "Chicken Noodle". Peter Pan and Wendy give us brown eggs, Super Chicken and Brownie provide lovely light green eggs and Chicken Noodle lays white eggs. They provide us with about three dozen eggs a week, but they provide so much more. The children have held, fed and run free with our chickens. The conversations and observations have led to projects big and small. Portraits of the hens have been done in many mediums. Shy children may connect with our chickens before some of their human friends. The children know where each chicken likes to go and are experts on herding them back to their coop and outside fenced area. They delight in the times the chickens try to sneak into our building and try to go up stairs or into the block area. They ponder big questions; "Can chickens smell if they don't have a nose?" They worry if a chicken loses feathers. They scold them if they get into our garden. They thank them for their eggs and discuss whose egg they might be eating if served dishes containing eggs. The important connection we try to make about where our food comes from is being made. They come back to visit the chickens and us when they move on to Kindergarten. We all enjoy the silly personalities and antics of our chicken friends and are so glad we have both Owls and Chickens at our school.
Some of my favorite books about chicken raising are listed below. If any of you might be interested in raising your own chickens, these are quite helpful.
"The Chicken Chronicles..Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia,Agnes of God, the Gladyses & Babe: A Memoir" by Alice Walker- Lovely, eccentric essays on the mediative role of watching chickens and much more.
"City Chicks" by Patricia Forman- a great guide to urban chicken raising
" A Chicken in Every Yard" by Robert & Hannah Lift- another practical guide for urban chicken raising
We are a memberof the Edible Schoolyard Project founded by Alice Waters in 1996. The focus of the project is to start gardens and teaching kitchens so they become tools for enriching the curriculum and life of the school community. Plese check out their website and out page by clicking the link below.Little Owl Edible Schoolyard Page
Our Outdoor Classroom was designed by Natural Playgrounds Company based in New Hampshire. Their research and that of many other advocates for childhood shows that natural play contributes to the overall physical, cognitive and emotional development of children.
We are also inspired to bring nature back into children's lives through the work of Richard Louv's book, The Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.