It’s a spring rite on the farm, but some York teachers are bringing it into the classroom for students.
It’s the joyful sight of new life: chicks hatching from their eggs. For three weeks, students in Clair Britt’s Harold C. Johnson Elementary School kindergarten class observed the daily development of 30 eggs from nest to hatchling.
In early May, 19 chicks broke free from their shells. The students saw the chicks peck holes around the diameter of the shells and break free after 18 days of incubation. The hatching, which began on a Sunday, can take up to 24 hours.
The egg hatching is a big thrill in Britt’s classroom.
“To see the excitement in my students as they track their development, candle the eggs, and care for their well-being as chicks is amazing,” said Britt.
“I get just as excited to see the chicks as my class,” she said. “It's one of my absolute favorite activities we do in kindergarten.”
Before the eggs arrived in the classroom, agent Faith Israel with the York County office of the Clemson Extension Service visited the class and explained that roosters give hens “a special gift.” Israel said that’s how an egg is fertilized.
The day the eggs arrived, the curious York students wanted to know if they could hold the chicks.
Day’Von Peoples knew he had to be gentle. “You gotta be sure you don’t break them,” he said.
Adriana Neal had expectations of the hatchlings. “When there’s a little hole in the eggs, I think we’ll hear them ‘cheep, cheep’.”
On the eighth day, Britt closed the blinds and turned off the lights so that the youngsters could see “the big blob” and the definite air sac inside the fertilized eggs.
As she held a flashlight to the bottom of each egg, the children leaned in to see the developing embryos.
“Wow!” “Ooooh!” the children exclaimed as Britt candled each egg.
In one instance, the children could see a dark spot that was an eye inside the egg. They were excited to see movement inside some of the eggs. All of the eggs were fertilized, and that was a first for Britt.
No one knows if the eggs are fertilized until the embryo begins to form, she said. So the class waited for 10 more days to see their little chickens begin to break forth.
Israel explained during her visit to the classroom that all of the chickens might not be strong enough and some don’t make it out of the egg, but that’s OK. It’s a part of life.
Twenty-two students welcomed the hatchlings. They called them Chickie, Princess, Jack, Wasabi Spike and other creative names, although most of the chicks are female.
Females have long, stringy feathers on their wings, while males have fluffy wing feathers.
After the chicks had hatched, students settled down on the classroom rug to hold the chicks they had so eagerly anticipated.
“It fell asleep on us three times,” Natalie Dover said, beaming a smile and holding up three fingers.
Holding the chicks brought different reactions from the children.
“I think it was cool, (but) it was nasty because it pooped on me!” Adriana Neal said.
“They’re cool. They’re very, very soft and very cute,” said Wesley Harper.
Natalie Dover called the chicks cuddly, while Kaydence Hardy thought holding the chick was scary because it jumped. All of the students had an opportunity to hold a chick with a partner.
During the week that the chicks lived with their kindergarten guardians, they ate starter chick food and drank water.
Britt and three other kindergarten teachers incubate eggs and watch their development through visual aids and videos to teach the life cycle. On day two, the heart develops, and by day four, the brain is formed.
The chicks begin to hatch as early as 18 days from the start of incubation.
Indian Land Farms gathered 30 eggs during two weeks for Britt’s class. The eggs came from different breeds and varied in size and color.
Teachers Connie Garvin, Amy Helms and Clarissa Fowler also raised chicks in their kindergarten classes. Kristi Sturgis, Garvin’s teaching assistant, provided the eggs for those classrooms from her home.
Britt, a 2006 York school district teacher of the year, and her teaching assistant Sandy Godfrey have raised chicks in the Styrofoam incubator for the past nine years.
The chicks don’t stay in the classroom for long after they hatch. About a week after they hatch, Britt said, she takes the young birds to her family’s farm in the Lowcountry.