Maat van Uitert shares five great ways to teach your kids confidence around your flocks.
Ever watch those videos of roosters chasing kids and laugh? Did you know that confidence around our feathered friends can be taught? And that confidence can influence the rest of your kids’ lives? We’ve all heard that involving children in farm life and participating in 4-H is a great way to teach life skills and shape your kids into happy, productive adults. But you don’t need to leave your backyard or invest in expensive equipment to replicate those lessons. It’s easy to use your chickens to teach your children both respect for nature and patience, while simultaneously showing them how to overcome scary situations and hardship. In this article, I’ll share five ways we teach our young children confidence around our flock!
Why teach confidence with chickens?
In our home, we try teaching our kids life skills that’ll be useful throughout their lives. We noticed early on that our flock scared our kids – especially when they were very little, and we had some naughty roosters. Our kids were even scared to play on their swingsets! But we approached the situation head-on. After all, the chickens were already in our yard! We had a simple way to teach our children how to overcome adversity in an everyday setting that we could control. Once they realized that their actions can influence a chicken’s behavior, it opened up a variety of opportunities for us to teach them even MORE confidence. Each new experience built on the last one. Over time, they’ve been able to develop more and more skills.
5 Easy Ideas to Teach Confidence with Chickens
By caring for backyard flocks, and discovering that chickens make wonderful companions and provide food, children learn respect for nature and care for another creature. With this respect comes confidence. Here are five easy ideas you can implement on your own farm to instill timeless values that your children will carry with them for life.
1. Body Awareness & Discovering How Your Actions Affect Your Environment
There’s a right way and a wrong way to hold a chicken. It’s important for kids to understand how to ensure our feathered friends are comfortable in our arms. This skill teaches compassion, body awareness, and patience. Sometimes, kids will pick a bird up by the wing, which naturally leads to lots of unhappy squawking. The result? A hen won’t want to be held again. We’ve found that gently showing our children how to properly hold their pet reveals how our actions, as their caretakers, lead to either discomfort or happiness.
Adult chickens should be held with wings close to their body and pet gently. It’s a bit hard at first for small hands! But learning how to properly hold a hen — and making sure tiny hands and arms are in the right place so a chicken can rest quietly — requires body awareness, an important skill for any young child to develop. It’s okay if your pet takes time to warm up to being held. It’ll teach patience!
Similarly, we’ve found that raising chickens from a day-old also shows kids how their actions can affect chickens as they get older. For example, if owners show respect and affection when a hen is a chick, then the pet will enjoy the owner’s company more as she grows up.
2. Respect for the Food Our Pets Produce for Us
My daughter loves searching for “eggies,” and we expect excited squeals every morning when we check the coops. These daily hunts are a perfect time to teach patience and concern for another living being. Chickens lay eggs every 24 hours, but if they’re scared or worried, they won’t lay. Our daughter quickly learned that if a hen is sitting on her nest, she shouldn’t be disturbed. (This goes double if she’s trying to hatch eggs!) A scared hen won’t lay eggs, and we’ll miss out on our daily searches. She’s learned that keeping your flock safe and happy is imperative to making sure they lay eggs.
Egg searches are also a great invitation to problem-solve and teach goal-setting. Sometimes, a hen will hide her eggs. Our daughter must then figure out why. Does she have a safe and inviting nesting box? Perhaps her nesting area isn’t clean enough. These difficult situations teach problem-solving skills, help children discover how to set a goal — getting your hen to lay in nesting boxes — and find possible solutions to test. When the hen starts using her box, your little one will also discover that they’ve reached their goal!
3. How to be Careful
Did you know chickens can also teach intentional living? Children sometimes rush through tasks so they can get back to playing. We need to teach them to slow down and complete a task deliberately. It’s a skill that’ll yield a bounty when they’re adults. Showing your child how to hold eggs and not break them is a perfect way to teach goal-setting and completing tasks.
For example, if you rush to collect eggs and bring them inside, what might happen? Our daughter has tripped multiple times, causing a lot of tears. She’s now learned to walk slowly and deliberately, and place the eggs gently into her basket, because rushing and being impulsive means that she’ll have no eggs for breakfast! She’s gained confidence as she’s mastered this skill, and eagerly takes on more complicated tasks.
Additionally, she’s discovering to live intentionally with our daily egg searches. When we keep chickens, our goal is to raise lovely pets who lay beautiful eggs. However, if we don’t collect those eggs, what will happen? The eggs will spoil, or another animal, such as a rat, will eat them. How did that get us closer to our goal of raising chickens for eggs? Well, it didn’t. The remedy? Make sure we’re intentional, and harvest our bounty daily.
Similarly, she’s learned how to organize our eggs so we know which eggs are freshest, and which might need to be repurposed as pig food. We harvest about 2 dozen eggs a day — far more than we can eat. For a time, we didn’t have a system. We just put all our eggs in a single bucket. After a while, it was really difficult to figure out which were freshest. We devised a plan, and now our daughter knows which basket holds that day’s harvest, and which must be used first or recycled into pig feed.
4. Respect for Space & Patience
You’re probably aware that hens need space both to sit on their eggs and care for their young as they grow. Our daughter tried once or twice to raid active nests because she was eager to harvest as many eggs as possible. I don’t need to explain how badly this scenario can end! In order to protect her, our health, and our flock, she learned to leave nesting hens alone. This skill teaches patience and respect for space.
Similarly, a good mother hen protects her chicks. This year, one of our hens even attacked any human who came close! She’s a good mother, but for a child, this can lead to tears. We taught our daughter that she can’t hold chicks until she’s made sure that the hen is comfortable with her presence. She’s developed patience and respect for the hen’s space.
We also had to troubleshoot, because not all hens want human company. After some brainstorming, our daughter decided to offer treats to the hen. While it still took some time, the hen eventually allowed us to approach her chicks. It may seem like these are simple problems on the surface, but they still help kids learn about their environment and develop confidence to deal with new, and sometimes scary, situations.
5. How to be Assertive & Prevent Overwhelm
On our farm, feeding time can make it nearly impossible to walk. Our hens love gathering around our legs, eager for the first bit of grain to fall from our buckets. It’s overwhelming for an adult, and even more frustrating for a child. Feed time, however, is also a great time to teach your child how to deal with overwhelming and frustrating situations.
Got chickens who love to jump all over you? Problem-solve with your child. How can you make the hens wait? How can you urge them to clear the area so you can walk to the feeders? Again, these things seem simple to solve, and possibly even useless in “the real world,” but it’s not the specific scenario that’s key. It’s the act of problem-solving and being strong in the face of difficult situations that’s important. We want our children to look at the options and devise a plan. After some brainstorming, we decided to have designated feeding areas, and to keep the feeders as full as possible, so our flock always felt full. Now, they don’t jump all over our daughter anymore!
Teaching your children confidence around chickens isn’t just about creating a happy and comfortable relationship with their pets. It’s full of life lessons that’ll benefit them for their entire lives. Our feathered friends teach respect for other creatures, patience, problem-solving, and planning. As your family grows up, they’ll look back on their childhood and their very first flock fondly. And as parents, you’ll thank your hens!
Maat van Uitert is the founder of the backyard chicken and duck blog, Pampered Chicken Mama, which reaches approximately 20 million backyard poultry enthusiasts every month. She’s also the founder of the Living The Good Life With Backyard Chickens store, which carries nesting herbs, feed, and treats for chickens and ducks. You can catch up with Maat on Facebook and Instagram .