A group of preschoolers at My Caterpillar Clubhouse huddled around Mathias Ingle as he placed an egg on the egg candler.
The egg was dark while light emanated from below — the sign of a fertilized egg.
“If we tip it up, we can kinda see some of the blood vessels right here,” Ingle said.
The kids watched with rapt attention as Ingle showed them the tiny features present inside the egg.
Preschoolers have kept the eggs in an incubator for the last couple weeks, part of Purdue Extension of Howard County’s chicken embryology course.
The extension office supplied classrooms across the county with incubators, including at Eastern Elementary, Western Primary and multiple schools in Kokomo.
One by one, Ingle, who is the agriculture and natural resources educator for Purdue Extension, placed a dozen eggs on the candler.
He had some fun with the kids, asking them what they thought the eggs would hatch into. Most said, “chickies!” though some of the preschoolers gave answers such as a horse or koala.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids light up,” he said. “It’s awesome, actually. (It’s) one of my favorite projects I work on each year. Even the adults learn something.”
This year marked the return of the in-person embryology course. The annual Purdue Extension program was online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Caterpillar Clubhouse director Stephanie McKinstry had kids count each egg that was fertilized. In all, 10 of 12 eggs were on their way to becoming baby chicks, and they should hatch this week.
McKinstry covered the incubation cycle of a chicken egg with her class. There are diagrams of a chicken and egg on an easel inside her garage, which serves as a preschool classroom and indoor clubhouse.
The class also keeps track of the day of the egg’s incubation cycle. May 2, which is when Ingle candled the eggs, was day 13. Students knew that on day 13 claws begin to develop.
Ingle had a set of plastic eggs that showed each stage of the cycle, and those who were passed around to the kids. He also showed them pictures he had saved of a cracked egg, which showed the contents inside the shell.
It’s one thing to just learn about it through pictures and diagrams. It’s another to see the eggs in the incubator, to see the developing features inside of an egg with the help of Ingle, and ultimately, to see the egg hatch.
“Every child understands eggs come from chickens, but I think to understand the process of it all really makes them understand the life cycle,” McKinstry said.
The class had certainly learned some things and even corrected Ingle once: Nash Bridges pointed out that Ingle had left the cover of the incubator off while he checked the eggs. The cover should always be kept on.
Classrooms participating in the embryology course received a few visits from Ingle. The first visit featured a live chicken. It’s an opportunity for children to interact with an animal they might not have seen before.
The whole learning experience is what McKinstry strives for at My Caterpillar Clubhouse. The preschool teaches kids the skills needed for kindergarten in an outdoor, hands-on setting. Most days are spent outside interacting with nature.
My Caterpillar Clubhouse kids have learned how to tap a maple tree and make dandelion jelly, while also learning how to count, work together and treat each other with respect.
“I just want them to get excited about learning,” McKinstry said.