Contributor Amida is currently obsessed with chickens and often blogs about them at Journey Into Unschooling.
This summer, I decided to ditch the school work and focus on a more natural learning style, allowing our interest to dictate which topics we would explore. For my three-year-old, it was the different structures at the playground and figuring out daredevil ways to get the most play out of them. My teenage son had a newfound interest in knives and began his personal research on the various types and their pros and cons.
For me, it all boiled down to chickens.
Project-based learning is something I’ve always believed in and aspire to integrate in our home learning environment.
For years, I’ve dreamt of the perfect summer project. The opportunity finally came when we met a couple of chicks facing eviction from the community garden, where they had set up residence without permission.
Being as there was already an established and full flock at the garden, these two newcomers had to go. I decided to rescue them on the spot and raise them as our own, and hence, a summer project was born.
Through our chicken project, I identified three phases I think are essential in the learning process: exploration, experimentation, and explanation.
This is first phase, we figure out what we know and what we need to know. It is a time for research and intense immersion into our subject.
When I first got the idea to raise chickens, I knew nothing about the keeping of poultry. I interviewed everyone I knew who owned backyard chickens and read up on lots of literature.
My favorite titles:
- Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow
- Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying by Jenna Woginrich
- Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard by Jessi Bloom
Of course, I also started spending a lot of time with chickens themselves, taking in their habits, diet, and studying their coop infrastructure. I learned quickly that this was going to be a messy hobby and researched ways to a cleaner coop.
In the world of backyard chickens, there is a host of information to acquire. What breed(s) are you raising and what are the temperaments/egg laying abilities of the breed? Where will they live? (Chick Days includes a handy chart with this information.)
My main concern in regards to the chickens was their coop requirement. My initial inclination was to buy a coop, but I didn’t really want to spend $200 up front for housing of free chickens, so I started researching building our own.
Considering we had zero woodwork experience outside of a half-semester of woodshop I took in the 6th grade, this was going to be a challenge. But, as luck would have it, we came across a pile of pallets, which set my mind into high gear.
One week and many configurations later, we had a pretty decent coop, made up of the pallets, scrap wood, and windows from old TV units — we even managed to turn an old toy wood bench into a nesting box! Through trial and error, we figured out the best placement of the pieces we had and how to attach everything so that it was secure and predator safe.
One way I know when my kids have learnt something is their ability to explain the topic to someone else. Throughout this project, I talked constantly with the kids about chickens and their coop, and they in turn, shared their new knowledge with anyone who needed to know.
Nobody was “required” to help me, but of course, they all contributed, whether it be assistance through muscle, or tool selection, or testing out the integrity of the coop itself by climbing in and out of it (of course, I made sure everything was secured ahead of time).
We learned the names of different chicken breeds, and figured that what we had were hybrids called Red Sex Links (and what that curious name even meant!).
We looked through photos of lots and lots of coops before settling on our design, based mostly on materials available and our basic skill level. There were features we wanted to incorporate and others that were filed away for later, when we had more time and skill.
It has been a wonderful experience and one that will no doubt require more learning and growing when the chickens move in!
Our learning was born out of interest and necessity — with a natural ease that I know learning was meant to be.
As we built the coop, so too, did we build up our skills and knowledge in the topic. This is something I hope to carry on into the school year.
Were there any summer projects that allowed you to learn as a family?