We have all learned over the past year that while virtual learning can be done well, it can never replace the experience of being on campus. Lower school students have been back on campus since late October, and this spring they have been learning to care for silkworms and chickens, an experience that could not be replicated during virtual learning.
When students found out the garden would be up and running in May, they immediately asked about chickens. So Kasey Wooten, the lower school science specialist, thought it would be good for the kindergarten and first-grade students to raise the new chicks. The chicks immediately settled into a cozy brooder with a heat lamp set at 95 degrees.
"We can learn a lot from the chicks,” first grader Emily L. explained. “They're very creative. I like having them here because we get to take care of them by cleaning their coop, replacing their bedding, and giving them fresh food and water."
Students are encouraged to deepen their observation skills as they watch the chicks grow up, taking note of their color change, anatomical developments, and general behavior. Having the chicks in the classroom in the Science and Environmental Center when they first arrived at Nueva meant that students were able to observe them closely in between lessons and if they finished their work early.
“I wanted students to develop empathy as they connected with the chicks and to see themselves as responsible caretakers to our feathered friends,” Kasey said.
She was excited to see how dedicated her students are to the chicks and their well-being. Some students put themselves in charge of certain tasks. When a new waterer was installed, Kasey asked first grader Jonah Z. to keep an eye on the chicks to make sure they were using it and getting enough water. When Jonah had to step away, he delegated the task to other students because he understood how important it was.
“Somebody has to make sure the chicks are drinking water!" Jonah said. "We are all like their parents.”
“The high point for me was taking the chicks out and giving students the opportunity to hold them,” Kasey shared. “Although the chicks can be a bit skittish, if students hold them close and with care, they calm down and even fall asleep at times. The children were gentle and really rose to the occasion.”
Now that the chicks are bigger, they moved into the garden to their brand new chicken coop soon.
"I liked having the chicks in the classroom because then we could watch them up close and see what they do...they are so cute when they cuddle," first grader Alistair H. added.
Learning to care for living creatures isn’t isolated to just our smallest learners. In fourth grade, students have been caring for silkworms, as silkworms relate to a book the class is reading, Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park.
"We are currently reading a book about two kids who do a silkworm project for a fair, which is the reason our cohorts got silkworms as pets,” fourth grader Aviva S. explained. “I really enjoy taking care of the silkworms: they are really fun to watch!"
“Project Mulberry turned out to be a good resource for understanding what was happening with the eggs as it outlined the process very clearly,” said Amy Li, lower school science associate teacher. “It's been really unique for the students to walk through a parallel experience with raising these worms that the main character goes through as we've been reading the book.”
One fourth grade parent, who actually took care of silkworms themselves when they were younger, found a leafy mulberry tree near their home, and offered to bring them in for the worms. Each day one of the students was the dedicated "silkworm minder." They were in charge of checking up on the worms, cleaning out their bin, and providing fresh leaves.
The silkworm minder had to carefully move the silkworms from dried-out leaves to fresh ones using a toothpick to nudge them. As part of the process, the students learned to be respectful and gentle when observing the worms and helping them move to new leaves.
"Silkworms eat a lot,” fourth grader Tiago S. said. “If you were a silkworm, it would be like constantly eating a ginormous chocolate cake the size of your living room and constantly falling into the hole you ate and falling asleep!”
"I’ve really enjoyed observing the silkworms right in our classroom,” added fourth-grader Lucia v. G. “It's cool to watch them, be kind to them, and see how they eat and do other daily-life things. And it links to our book group too!”