Hatching a miracle

30th August 2013 at 01:00

The best thing that happened in school last year was watching my class of 10- and 11-year-olds witness a miracle.

I had written a note for the children as they came in one morning: "Mrs Bunce had nine new babies last night. They are black and white and there are lots of broken shells. What do you think she has?"

"Killer whales" was one of the more alarming replies, although "puppies" and "dolphins" also got plenty of mentions. Alarmed by this ignorance of the natural world, I hatched a plan.

The incubator was brought in from home and sat rocking on the window ledge. The children were aware that this electronically controlled motion was simulating the rolling back and forth that the mother hen would provide if she was sitting on this clutch of 11 eggs.

Twenty-one days is a long time for anyone to wait, let alone a bunch of expectant children, so we filled the time with poultry-related research and my husband brought in some hens from home. Better still, he brought in Brian.

Brian is a 60-year-old man with Down's syndrome who lives with us as part of our family. He is responsible for feeding, cleaning out and collecting eggs from our chicken and duck population.

I had chatted with the children about learning disabilities and Down's syndrome and told them about Brian. Would they like to meet him and ask him some questions about keeping poultry? They weren't sure about that. Not at all. That is, until he arrived, confidently handling the birds, lifting them from their boxes and talking soothingly to them.

I had scanned the class for reactions as he came through the door and, yes, there were one or two sniggers. Now, however, all eyes were on Brian as he did what came naturally to him - the group response was one of total respect.

On Day 19 great excitement bubbled up as tiny peep-peeps could be heard if you held an egg close to your ear. The children were fascinated. The next day, tap-tappings from little investigative beaks had them at fever pitch.

They were jumping up and down the next morning. Two chicks had emerged and were a far cry from the fluffy yellow balls the children had drawn on Easter cards in the past. "Grey" and "bedraggled" would probably be the adjectives of choice, but soon they dried out, puffed up and stood unaided.

Usually chicks would have no human help with their emergence, but with the remaining eggs we allowed these eager young people to lend a hand, holding the precious treasure in their palms and almost forgetting to breathe. It was truly wondrous: 26 little midwives.

And, yes, two of the 11 didn't make it. Explanations were earnestly sought and gently given, and understandings of bigger pictures were reached. What a life lesson.

Rachel Bunce has been shortlisted for a TES writing competition. The final shortlisted article will be published here next week. To vote for a winner, visit tesconnect.comcolumnistcomp

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