Home icon

Observing Chickens on the Playground

chickens in a pen

About this video

This video shows some of the ways that early learning benchmarks may be met indirectly when teachers set up an environment that encourages children’s inquiry. In this case, teachers have given children an opportunity to observe chickens during free play, after first having arranged some activities that allowed the children to become somewhat familiar with the chickens in another setting.

The video was taken at a small school in central Illinois. The kindergarten/first-grade class has studied how chickens develop in the egg and after hatching. Children in the preschool class also were able to observe the chicks at various times. The events in this video occur at the end of the school year, when the chicks are almost adult size. The teachers have put them in an outdoor pen (weather permitting) to run, scratch, and eat insects. Children from both classrooms can observe the chicks during recess if they wish.

In this clip, we see Selena, a 4-year-old preschool girl, spending part of her outdoor recess observing the chicks in their pen and commenting to a visitor (the videographer). A teacher and two classmates (Bart and Gareth) join her there for short periods of time.

In the first part of the video, Selena walks back and forth, watching the chicks as she talks to the visitor, speculating about which chicks might be roosters. The teacher then joins them and explains that the red comb and wattle developing on the white chick indicate that it is a rooster. She comments about lack of shade in the pen, and Selena speculates that the chicks might “fight” over the small shady spot.

The second part of the video begins with Selena spontaneously describing to the visitor what the chicks are doing. Bart, a 4-year-old boy, joins her for a moment and asks if the chicks grew up. She replies that they are growing up and that “now we know” how to tell which is the rooster. She does not use either “comb” or “wattle”—specific terms used by the teacher—but instead employs a combination of words and gestures to describe the comb developing on the chick’s head.

The final part of the video shows Gareth (a 4-year-old boy) and Selena talking—first to the visitor, then to each other—about the size, shape, and contents of the chicks’ pen.

Throughout the video, children use physical movement (such as gestures and pointing) in addition to words to convey their ideas. Combining words and gestures in conversation is fairly typical among preschool-age children. Part of their conversation is parallel; although both are talking about the pen, they aren’t necessarily listening to each other. At other times, they respond to each others’ comments. Such variation in attention and response is also fairly typical of preschoolers’ conversations with peers. As the video ends, Selena and Gareth stand side by side, looking at the chicks and talking about the pen and its potential benefits for the chicks. The fact that they mention space, plants, food, and “all different kinds of stuff” suggests some awareness of at least a few of the things that the chicks need in order to thrive.

These observations and conversations take place in the context of the children’s outdoor free play. The visitor does not ask probing questions; the children direct the conversation and pay attention to those aspects of the chicks’ behavior that interest them. Their conversations suggest that at least for Selena, Bart, and Gareth, their relatively brief prior experience with the chicks has led to ongoing interest that can be expanded when they have access to the chicks during their extended outdoor time.



Part 1

Selena: Maybe the black ones are the roosters. (She moves to the right, toward one end of the pen.)

Visitor: Oh, am I in the way? I’ll move.

Selena: Maybe there’s just one rooster.

Visitor: That’s possible.

Selena: Yup.

Visitor: I sure don’t know how to tell.

Selena: Or there could be two roosters, the two black ones. But I’m not sure that one is black. I think it’s kind of—brown. (She walks back and forth as the chickens move around in the pen.) Well, it’s, that’s redder than the black one. It looks like it’s black with a little yellow.

A door opens on the left. The head teacher from the kindergarten/first-grade classroom joins the conversation.

Visitor: We’re observing these guys.

Teacher: The, uhm, and you can tell one’s, at least one of them’s a rooster.

Visitor: We were just wondering about that. So how can we tell if it’s a rooster?

Teacher: The white one is growing a comb and a wattle. You can see the red wattle. I wish they had a little more shade than just that little spot.

Selena: That’s why they like to fight over it.

Teacher: They look hot.

Part 2

Selena: They both look really nice. I really like the way she’s trying to—maybe she’s trying to get every—the orange one is trying to get everybody’s attention. I really don’t know what the black one’s trying to do. Oh, (points) now the black one’s getting dirt.

Bart: (Off camera) Are those the—did they grow up?

Selena: Yup, they’re growing up. And now we know which one’s the rooster. The white one, with the thing (gestures with one hand over her head) on his head, the red thing on his head.

Part 3

Selena: They still have lots of fun in there, right?

Visitor: They seem to enjoy it.

Gareth: And they have more space.

Selena: (Points to parts of the pen.) So it would be better if they were straight from here to there—

Gareth: They have more space, they have more space.

Selena: (Points to the sides of the pen.) —that’s weird, just from there to there.

Gareth: They have more space!

Visitor: They have more space than they did before?

Gareth: Yeah. (He gestures with arms, indicating size and shape.) See, first they had like that much space.

Visitor: And when they’re inside—

Selena: These chicks have way more space than they had before in the little cage. I think they’re having much more fun.

Gareth: Yeah, eating the plants and the food, right?

Selena: There’s clover, and there’s all different kinds of stuff.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.D.ECb: Speak using age-appropriate conventions of Standard English grammar and usage.
Selena used a number of relatively complex sentences with appropriate grammar and word use.
Language Arts
1.D.ECc: Understand and use question words in speaking.
Bart asked if the chickens had grown up.
6.A.ECa: Count with understanding and recognize “how many” in small sets up to 5.
Selena readily understood that there were two black chickens and one white one.
7.A.ECc: Use vocabulary that describes and compares length, height, weight, capacity, and size.

Gareth used gestures and words to show the size of the chicks’ indoor enclosure, comparing it with the size of the outdoor pen. Both Gareth and Selena mentioned the chicks having “more space.”
8.A.ECa: Sort, order, compare, and describe objects according to characteristics or attribute(s).
Selena described the chickens by their colors.

Gareth said that the chickens “have more space” in their outdoor pen than indoors.
9.A.ECe: Think about/imagine how altering the spatial orientation of a shape will change how it looks (e.g., turning it upside down).
Selena talked about the shape of the pen, using a combination of gestures and words to indicate what she thought would be “better.”

Gareth positioned his arms to represent the indoor space where he saw the chicks previously.
12.A.ECa: Observe, investigate, describe, and categorize living things.
Selena observed the chicks for several minutes, physically changing her position and perspective several times. She speculated about which ones might be roosters. She remarked about specific physical features and behaviors of the chicks and commented on the possible purpose of a behavior.

After hearing the teacher explain what indicates that a chick is a rooster, Selena used words and gestures to pass that information on to Bart.
12.A.ECb: Show an awareness of changes that occur in oneself and the environment.
Bart asked Selena, “Did they grow up?” She replied that the chicks were growing up.
12.B.ECa: Describe and compare basic needs of living things.
After the teacher said that she wished that the chicks had more shade, Selena commented that the chicks might be fighting over the available shade. Gareth and Selena commented about the plants and food available to the chicks inside the pen. Selena commented that the chicks may have “more fun” in the larger pen.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECd: Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities.
Selena observed the chickens for several minutes, paying close attention to their behaviors and sharing information with Bart, Gareth, and a visitor.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
Selena responded to questions and comments from Bart and Gareth.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017