Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
Yesterday was a big day at my house, not because it was Mother's Day, but because it was Chicken Coop Day. I have been raising five new hens these past two months. Because my other chicken coop (with three hens) is too small to add more hens, I opted to build a new coop. I bought an outdoor dog kennel run, and my husband built a chicken coop hut to put inside the fenced kennel. Yesterday was the day we finally moved the chickens from their large plastic tub home that was located in my bathroom and into the new chicken coop home.
This was a major event in our house, because we needed to introduce all of my nine miniature dachshunds to the new chicken home along with the new chickens.
As we all visited the girls in their new home and watched as they discovered where their food and water were and how to get in and out of the nesting area, I thought about the past two months and the lessons that I learned. As I discover on a daily basis here on our ranch, there are many life lessons and metaphors to be found in routine country life. So it is with our new chickens. Here are three lessons that I learned from the chicken coop and that apply to teaching.
I brought the chicks home when they were just a few days old. Because newborn chicks do not have feathers, they are unable to regulate their body temperature. I had to rig up a heating system that would ensure that the little gals had the right body temperature at all times. I had to monitor the set up to be sure that everything was working correctly. I had to observe my little ones to be sure that they were not huddling together under the lamp (too cold) or panting on the far side away from the lamp (too hot). I had a thermometer in the tub, and I checked on my girls every few hours. This process continued for weeks, until the time came for the hardening off stage, when I altered the lamp set up to begin reducing the heat (click here to read the article about The Hardening Off Process).
While I raised my chickens, I took great care to provide the best food for them so that they would grow up healthy. I had to keep the feeder clean and filled with food, and this became a tedious chore in the past few weeks, as the girls tended to make a mess. I also provided the girls fresh water on a very frequent basis, as the girls had a nasty habit of flapping their "wings" as the wings grew and stirred up dust and pine shavings into the water. Later, as the girls grew stronger, they were able to fly up to roost on the top of the water feeder, which introduced more bird detritus into the water. Keeping the water feeder clean and filled with fresh water was a real chore, as the girls were determined to make me work at this.
I also had to keep the plastic tub cleaned of chicken droppings. I would periodically clean out the old pine shavings and replace them with new shavings. As the girls grew, so did my task, until I was cleaning out the tub on a daily basis in this last week. I thought it was important that the girls had a clean living environment, so I kept up with this chore.
I have nine dogs in the home (yes, I know, that is a large pack of dogs to have in the home, but I love them all). One of my dogs has a thing for feather dusters, and naturally this thing also relates to chickens. This dog was always alert about the chickens. I had to take care to keep the bathroom door shut and the chicken dog out of the room. Later, as my husband finished building the chicken hut, there was another inspection process that I put him through. I am quite rigid about the level of protection that the chicken coop and run will provide for my girls, because we do have predators in our property area. There are dogs that roam free in our country area, and as recent events in LA county have shown, roaming dog packs can be quite dangerous, despite our ranch fencing. We also have coyotes and raccoons, and these animals are a serious issue as far as chickens are concerned, especially raccoons, who seem to have a tag team system going to kill chickens. So I would not put my little ones into their new home unless I was sure that the new coop was well protected with the appropriate fencing and chicken wire.
How do these three lessons relate to teaching?
Dr. Suzuki's philosophy of Talent Education and Mother Tongue is all about environment. Dr. Suzuki wrote time and again about the power and influence that environment plays in the lives of children. Dr. Suzuki admonished parents to reflect on their own behavior and about the type of environment that the parents provide for their children. Dr. Suzuki asked that parents create the very best environment possible for their children so that their children would grow up to be fine human beings with noble and good hearts.
Dr. Suzuki encouraged parents to nurture by love. All children need love and affection. The love must be unconditional, with no strings attached. Our lives are so busy, and there are so many possible distractions available to us. Sometimes I despair that our world today neglects the nurturing aspect of love with regard to our children. I often observe parents who seem annoyed with their children on a constant basis, as if parenting were merely one more chore on the parent's "to do list" rather than a labor of love, which is how I imagined the parent envisioned it when the parent first considered having a child. How do parents lose touch with their initial emotional bonds with their children? How can we get back to the loving, affectionate, and nurturing relationship that will help children to grow healthy and strong emotionally and socially? Good nurturing also aids learning. Children do not learn well from an unhappy or stressful place. This is an important life lesson to learn and to consider for children.
Children are not adults, and children do not have the ability to think and make decisions with the same experience and knowledge as adults. That is why children have parents. Parents have the role of protecting their children. Just as I provided a good protection system for my chickens, so too should parents provide a good protection system for their children.
Protection is not limited to keeping children safe and teaching health and safety rules (hold my hand when crossing the street, do not talk to strangers, wash your hands before eating food (and after handling chickens)). Protection also includes providing children with the learning environment that teaches children how to make good decisions. Parents should take care to teach their children how to identify problems, how to come up with possible solutions, how to plan a course of action, and how to evaluate the results.
I observe many parents who are unable to take the time to teach their children these important life skills. Instead, I see parents "do" things for their children, give answers to questions asked of the children, and sometimes even bark orders and instructions at the children. My theory is that parents are in a hurry and by behaving in this way, the parents are able to "speed things along." Or, perhaps parents are reluctant to acknowledge that their children are growing up and are no longer as dependent on the parents for help.
These are important lessons for children to learn, and parents can start with small tasks and build up to larger ones. In the studio, these tasks can be as simple as learning how to put the violin together, rosin the bow, and put the violin away in the case. Later, the child will learn how to tune the instrument (I start this task at the first lesson) and change strings. There is a learning and problem-solving opportunity at every turn if parents take the time and look to find it.
Take a few moments out of your day today to reflect on these three areas:
- What environment have you provided for your children? Is it an environment that will encourage your children to learn and motivate them to want to learn? What can you do to improve your children's environment?
- What nurturing have you provided for your children? Are you nurturing your children as much as your children need? Are your children eating food that will help them to grow up healthy and strong? Are you providing your children with the love and affection that your children need? How can you improve the nurturing that you provide your children?
- What protection have you provided for your children? Do you allow your children to learn how to solve problems and perform tasks without your help? Do you take the time to allow your children to learn how to grow up and become fine human beings with noble and good hearts?
Environment, Nurturing, and Protection were merely three lessons I learned from the chicken coop, but these three lessons are important ones in the life of a chicken. Children are even more important than chickens. My wish is that parents and teachers will reflect on these three lessons this week as they relate to children and students.