Glen Montessori School in Ross hatches a lesson for students

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The silky feathers, the soft clucks, the rosy combs gently wobbling — all these proved irresistible to the children and parents passing by the chicken coop outside Glen Montessori School in Ross.

Pulling their mom or dad by the hand, the children would run over for a visit, squatting down to peer through the coop’s mesh to watch the three hens inside search the grass for bugs, worms and other tasty prizes.

“They want to watch the chickens every day,” said Lan Lin, of Franklin Park, as her 5-year-old son Aaron and 3-year-old son Lucas poked wiggling fingers into the coop. “I think it’s a brilliant idea.”

The 1-year-old chickens — a Rhode Island Red, a Sussex and an Araucana that lays blue and green “Easter” eggs — arrived a month ago at the school in the former Perrysville Elementary School on Route 19. They are part of a project begun by Jodie Welge, executive director and head of the Glen Montessori School, to help the children learn some of the key Montessori ideals of responsibility, empathy and respect for nature.

And it didn’t hurt that the children, well, begged.

“They’ve been asking for farm animals for a long time,” said Ms. Welge, who has approximately 50 other chickens, ducks and other fowl at her home in Sewickley, and who initially raised the school’s three chickens there. “The kids learn to respect the animal and what it takes to care for an animal, and there’s a lot of give and take.”

The school has plans for more plants and animals in the future. During the school year, classrooms host a Russian tortoise and an array of hamsters and gerbils. At some point, Glen Montessori plans to add another kind of “farm” animal — possibly ducks, after the children hatch the eggs — to keep the chickens company outside, school officials said.

Children of all ages take care of the chickens, from the toddlers who find worms for them after rainy days, to the older children who feed and water the chickens daily, save fruits and vegetables left over from their lunches for the hens, check the nesting boxes for eggs to use in baking quiches and cookies, sell extra eggs to their parents to help pay for chicken feed, and clean out their coop.

“Everybody thinks cleaning up the poop is stinky, but I deal with it every day,” said third-grader Amilliyon Kenyon.

Despite the downside of cleanup, the allure of the hens’ fluffy feathers, inquisitive eyes and ability to produce one of the key ingredients for brownies has earned the children’s stamp of approval.

“They’re cool,” said kindergartner Camille Howard.

The hens also have earned their ongoing curiosity.

“Look at her feet!” said one little boy on a recent afternoon.

“Can she peck you?” asked another, stroking the hen’s feet through the playground fence. “Hello, little big chicken.”

But even as they are having fun, the hands-on daily work of taking care of the hens is teaching the children key lessons that the founder of the Montessori method, Italian educator Maria Montessori, believes are essential to becoming happy, productive citizens, said Jackie Herrmann, the school’s head of education.

“She believed by taking care of plants and animals, the child becomes more satisfied and more fulfilled, and they contribute more to their community,” Ms. Herrmann said.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or

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