"People's minds are changed through observation and not through argument" - Will Rogers
It is amazing how sponge-like small children are. As soon as they start walking and talking it becomes clear that they want to be involved in everything--and “help” seems to be quick to join their vocabulary! I took my son (who is turning two this month) for a farm working holiday this past weekend. I was astounded at how much he was learning from our environment and how useful the chickens were in my parenting tool box.
Chickens wake early and head into the roost when it is time for bed. This behaviour gave my toddler his first job. Together, we set out to let the chickens out each morning and put them to bed each night, acting as a natural cue for his own bedtime. Although the roosters signaled early, he quickly figured out that they we were not getting up that early. It can be tough with the extended daylight to encourage our children to go to stay in bed as well as go to bed when it seems so bright out, the chickens helped with this too!! Although the days are longer, chickens still head in to roost around the same time every night. As the chickens make their way to sleep and we close them in safely to the coop it helped signal that bed time was imminent for him too!
Chickens are small enough (though some breeds are known to be larger and potentially more aggressive) to walk with a toddler without knocking them over. Every day, part of my son’s desire to “help” was fulfilled as he took his bucket to the grass and began to distribute feed. At one point, my son even worked on his version of a rooster crow and would crow to each one in a call and response. The giggles that escaped amidst the seriousness of his role were simply priceless.
Laying hens of many breeds can be very gentle. Some breeders also breed for temperament, meaning you can have lovely laying hens that give you eggs, and are also super-friendly about you reaching for them. There are farmers who are very committed to their breeding programs and preserving heritage breeds. We loved our time Whole Earth Farm Studio where her chickens were made up of Ameraucana, Cukoo Maran, Cochin, & Dark Brahma.
My son--again, as of yet not even two years old--has learned to love collecting eggs. He still requires help understanding the difference between a raw egg being fragile and a hard-boiled egg being edible, but these are just more opportunities for learning simply from collecting our eggs.
Chickens offer small children a chance to feel included in household chores; they offer learning opportunities on the life-death cycle, where food comes from, and ample opportunities to just giggle. It’s well-known that chickens are incredibly effective at providing garden pest control and are great fertilizers--when you combine this with their teaching skills, I can’t understand why hens aren’t in every backyard!
As our weekend came to an end, I noticed how in only three days, the routines had become important to my toddler and how much confidence in himself he had gained in having felt important and helpful. As a parent of a child with diagnosed anxiety, it was amazing to witness those symptoms melt away in the fresh air and watch my little boy shake his tail feather with reckless abandon!