Back to the Egg in Gayle Matheson’s Classroom

By Rita Button

A few weeks ago, I spent an interesting hour talking with Gayle and her grade twos at James Bay Community School. This is no ordinary classroom, especially in the spring when the grade twos wait impatiently for the eggs to become chickens in the classroom’s incubator.

Gayle’s students learn firsthand what birth looks like—not pretty at the beginning, but they see what happens as they clean up the newly emerged chickens and watch their development with great excitement. While the eggs are in the incubator, Gayle prepares the class for the imminent births and explains to them the development of the eggs, information which is displayed on posters around the classroom so that students can easily review the information. 

Of course, Mrs. Matheson has rules regarding the ways in which the students interact with the chickens. They watch the hatching, but it’s a special privilege for a student to have a chicken at her/his desk. Looking after the chicken is a responsibility, and each chicken has its own little portable home—a Kleenex box with a straw covered bottom. Mrs. Matheson has taught her students how to cup the chickens in their hands—one hand on the bottom and one on top—the position they assumed while being inside the egg! The two students I talked to cupped their hands carefully when they showed me how Mrs. Matheson had taught them how to calm the chicken at their desks.

Both students commented on the cute, fuzzy nature of the chickens. Damien commented on their “cute little sound” while Nevada talked about their constant chirping and the miracle of surviving birth. Nevada also commented on the one rooster in the flock, noticing that his posture was taller and prouder than the rest of the chickens. But she also noted that the chickens “climb all over each other” and showed her understanding of the necessity of looking after the chickens that could not yet forage for themselves.

The ideas surrounding birth are discussed in the classroom—not all eggs, for example, hatch. Mrs. Matheson gives reasons for this, while also reassuring the students that when they eat eggs, they are not killing potential chickens since the eggs we eat are unfertilized.

Gayle takes extra time on the weekends to look after the chickens. That’s when she puts down the grout which is used to replace dirt and other roughage in which farm chickens seem to be scratching around forever. The feed is medicated chick feed from Borden’s. After the chickens have developed to a time where they need more space, they are transported to a walnut orchard on Gabriola Island. The people at Gabriola Orchard send pictures of the chickens as adult hens and roosters so the students get to see these tiny cute fuzzy creatures as adults.

Gayle believes that everyone should have the experience of watching birth occur. Some students have seen only the birth of a spider; others have not witnessed anything being born, so Gayle started thinking of ways to connect James Bay students to the natural process of life. The idea of an incubator became reality when the PAC funded part of the necessary equipment such as the lamps for the incubator at $700.00.

The old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg has a definite answer in Mrs. Matheson’s class; the students know for sure that the eggs came first, followed by the excitement of new life and the satisfaction that results from taking responsibility for another living being.

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