With the coming of spring, we have had chicks and ducklings hatch and two litters of rabbits in close succession.
From March till May, the children have observed the animals nesting. They have waited patiently and watched the duck as she sat on her eggs and hissed a warning at anyone who got too near. They were rewarded by her trust as they sat still, at an acceptable distance, and baby ducklings emerged from under protective wings and over the mother’s back. Soon, the ducklings were ready to leave the nest and take to the water. The children sat by the duck pond at the end of the vegetable garden and marvelled at the already expert swimmers.
The children followed mother-hen around the garden when she took her chicks out for the first time. A proud parade of three dwarf birds looked upon by a crowd of admiring children. Sitting quietly, hidden behind the greenery they saw the chicks learning by imitation. The chicks followed suit as the hen scraped at the ground, digged for worms, kicked up dust to bathe in and pecked at the weeds and remaining winter vegetables.
Once the nests had been abandoned we were able to look closely at how they were made: with straw and twigs, grass and lots of feathers. Making a soft, snug home for the hatchlings.
Mother-rabbit, we discover, has very different habits to the birds. Though she built a nest in much the same way, filling it with soft fluff from her own coat, we never see her on or even near it. One morning, we discover a nest full of tiny squirming newborn rabbits. The doe has covered them with a thick blanket of gray fluff and sits at the far corner of her pen with a beady eye on us. For the next few weeks, as the babies grow from tiny and hairless to plump fur balls with wide eyes, we never see the mother with them. In nature, this would protect them from predators. The babies would remain safely hidden in the nest, the mother drawing attention away from them. As it is, our two hunters, Daisy and Sophie, pitch up camp outside the fence and bark incessantly in the general direction of the bunnies.
Back at the outdoor classroom, observations from the farm animals and the wildlife are consolidated. We find a bird nest fallen from a tree and admire its form. As swallow season is upon us, we discuss their habits. We think about how they return every year to their nests and watch them returning home as they fly above our heads. Each child makes their own paper swallow to take home. (see my post about the swallows nesting here)
During the week coming up to mothering Sunday, we reflect on our own mothers and the children each make a present for them. At the end of the day, each child carefully carries the picture-holder they have made back to their waiting mother.