Academy’s Animals Contribute to Curriculum
Harlingen-based Waldorf School Pace Academy recognizes the astounding benefits that come with incorporating animals into the curriculum. Tending to pets or farm animals can prompt responsibility in a child and help them to recognize that their behavior and actions directly affect the wellbeing of the pet. Children learn they must have a respect for life when they realize animals must be cared for whether they “feel like it” or not.
“I love animals and I will tell you we use them for team building, teaching kids’ responsibilities, executive functioning,” said Robin Wilson-Clipson, principal of Pace Academy. “We’ve also used them to teach nutrition.”
In addition, having animals encourages kids to connect with nature and the world around them. All of a sudden, they’re out of the classroom and seeing, feeling, and interacting as part of hands-on learning.
On campus, Pace Academy allows their students to participate in taking care of chickens. By caring for a living animal, kids recognize the big role they have to stay responsible.
Wilson-Clipson explains that the younger grades help gather eggs in the morning “simply because it brings them so much joy.” And when the time comes to harvest eggs some of the older kids will participate, as well. The students also get to enjoy the experience of feeding and grooming the chickens, like making sure their feathers are all intact. Older students share in the responsibility of loading hay into the chicken coop and keeping a wind block to help the chickens stay warm during the winter. “I explain to the students these animals need to be treated with dignity,” Wilson-Clipson said.
Along the lines of treating an animal with dignity, Wilson-Clipson explains to the students that their food comes from animals, including these chickens. By recognizing the process of getting a chicken to become a chicken nugget, students gain a better of understanding of why it’s important not to waste food. “You need to have more reverence for your food,” Wilson-Clipson added.
“So we teach them that even that pear or that apple that they’re eating started out as a tiny little seed and it took six months to grow,” she said. “There was a lot of energy that went into making that apple, so let’s not be wasteful when we’re eating.”
And that’s not all. Pace Academy makes sure to utilize the chickens to teach standards-based academic skills, like math, reading, and science.
Wilson-Clipson explains she likes for the children to distinguish the anatomical differences between the chickens and humans. Students will also learn about diet, including what nourishes chickens compared to what nourishes humans. They talk about body and bone structure, like the digestive system of the chicken.
“We talk about how their hearing and their sight is different than ours according to what is a predator and what is a prey animal,” Wilson-Clipson said. “Like the one horse that we have, I explain to them you don’t walk up on a horse without giving them notice because in the wild they are prey and if you startle them they may lash out at you in defense for their life. So those are important things for kids to learn as far as how to treat animals, how to be gentler, and through this you’re teaching them how to be more gentle with each other, as well.”