Personal experience-– it has to be the most valuable learning tool. Experiences are life-shaping. As educators, we can not be satisfied with giving students a bare-minimum education. If we believe that our kids are worth it, we will go above and beyond for them even when it inconveniences or makes us a tad-bit crazy.
Hands down, the best experience that I have ever had the pleasure of giving my students was incubating, hatching, and releasing quail.
I declared my students “Quail Mommies and Quail Daddies!” My students had to go through “parent” training. I taught them the responsibilities of a mother quail. She sits on her eggs and keeps them warm (approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit). I taught them about how humidity is necessary for the quail to form inside the egg, and how it keeps them from drying out whenever they hatch. They were responsible for monitoring the incubator and making sure that it showed the correct humidity and temperature. Whenever the humidity fell below 70%, the students added extra water to the trays in the incubator. The students were also responsible for turning the eggs three times a day, just like a mother quail would in the wild. We had twenty eggs in our class’ incubator. Each egg had a number on one side and an X on the other side. This helped the students keep track of which eggs had been turned and which eggs needed to be turned. They did a fantastic job and loved feeling responsible for the well-being of the quail.
After introducing the quail eggs and how to take care of them, I showed the students videos of adult Bobwhite Quail. After the videos, the students had many questions. I wrote down their questions to guide the students’ research.
We read a delightful chapter book throughout the week about a quail family and an armadillo.
We used YouTube to watch videos about Bobwhite quail. As we watched, I asked my students to chart the life cycle in their writing journals. The students were familiar with life cycles at this point because we had already covered the life cycle of a frog and ladybug.
After the videos were over, I asked my students to independently write about the quail’s life cycle. I encouraged them to use the “magical” words: first, next, then, and last. I love the writing below because it comes from one of my ESL students that struggles with quite a few writing concepts. I almost always meet with this student in writing group. This KINDER student wrote this journal entry completely independently. I did not have any words on the board regarding the quail. I was really proud. For those of you that do not know kinder-writing-ese, I will decode it for you.
“First a egg hatches out of mama quail. Next a chick hatches out. Then a chick is wet. Last is a parent. I love chicks and quails. I see quails.”
There are obvious mistakes in the writing, but one can tell that the student understands sentences structure, punctuation, spacing, and beginning with an upper-case letter. Overall, without direct instruction, this student was successful in illustrating and writing the life cycle of a quail. This student got the digraphs “ch, ay, and ow.” I was just so proud, y’all.
After the students had a chance to write the life cycle to the best of their ability, I directly taught them about the life cycle. We made up a chant as a class with motions.
We spent quite a bit of time reading books about chickens, ducks, and quail as a class, independently, and in reading groups. We used a triple Venn diagram to chart differences and similarities. While I read the books, the students had whiteboards in their laps. They wrote down anything that they identified as a difference or similarity between chickens, ducks, and quail. They came up with more ideas than I expected! Their ideas alone are on this anchor chart. I did not contribute rather facilitated clear, concise thinking.
And, the students wrote about the similarities and differences between ducks, chickens, and quail.
The next day, my students learned a BIG word: oviparous. Oviparous creatures lay eggs. The book, “Chickens Aren’t the Only One” is an incredible book to guide students into understanding that birds are not the only creatures that lay eggs.
The students wrote about oviparous animals in their writing journals. Pure greatness.
Throughout the week, the kids created a paper bag quail and a hatching chick. They thought the hatching chick was the “best craft ever!”
And then the day came. The babies began to peck away at their egg. The students took turns peeking through the glass on the incubator. They watched the eggs sway back and forth. They watch the beak emerge through the first real hole in the egg. They were intrigued. They were totally beside themselves, yet totally silent because they didn’t want to “scare” them back into their eggs.
I taught the kids about the basic needs of living things, and the students provided for their babies. They gave them food, water, shelter, warmth, air, and safety. They were the BEST quail mommies and daddies. I allowed my students to touch and hold the quail, but I set boundaries. They could only hold the babies as long as the back of their hand was touching the brooder’s floor. Throughout the day, I allowed two students at a time to “quail sit.” The quail sitters got to sit, touch, and be with the babies for about 10 minutes at a time. Also, I let the students feed the quail dried meal worms.
In conclusion to the unit, my students learned that their county used to be populated with Bobwhite quail. I presented the students with four reasons that contributed to the decline in the Bobwhite quail population: loss of habitat, grass fires, fire ants, and feral hogs. The students worked in groups to come up with logical solutions to those problems.
Their ideas were amazing! One group came up with a way to get the quail to begin nesting in trees instead of on the ground for greater protection. One group decided that sprinklers needed to be installed in all fields in order to put out forest fires. And another group addressed the biggest reason for the decline in the Bobwhite population.
It was absolutely amazing because their idea to restore the habitat of the bobwhite quail was almost exactly what my parents had done on their property through becoming a part of the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative. Planting grasses and seeds that provided the quail with food and protection! They were thrilled whenever I told them that that is exactly what many people have done to bring quail back to the area.
At the very end of the unit, my students traveled to my parents’ property, land that has been dedicated to the Bobwhite Recovery Initiative. On this land, there is a quail house and a flight pen. The quail stay in the house under the heat lamp for two weeks. After two weeks, they are allowed to explore the flight pen. After eight weeks, the quail are released onto the land.
And the kids found… this recovery program actually works. These darlings graced us with their presence.
Living things, basic needs, life cycles, sequencing, conservation, ecosystems, environments, habitats, cause and effect, using tools to collect information, asking questions, making predictions, exploring the natural world, etc. The list goes on and on. Numerous concepts were taught through the “Life Cycle of a Quail” unit.
***You’re probably wondering where we got the quail eggs from. An amazing man that raises quail donates them to my Kindergarten team every year. For privacy reasons, I will keep his name anonymous. If you are interested in hatching quail, ducks, or chicks in your classroom just google sellers and find one that matches your values. Email me if you need help. ***