Curiosity, compassion, companionship—pets give kids the chance to learn these three C's for developing healthy, lifelong relationship skills. And when they're in the classroom, animals offer both academic and social benefits, says Alan M. Beck, ScD, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine and spokesperson for PetSmart. The perks:
Better Behavior and Performance Children often view pets as their best friends and so can develop a protective attitude toward animals. This in turn can encourage good behavior. “When a teacher asks students to quiet down because the noise is scaring their pet, they instantly recognize the pet’s needs and respond,” explains Dr. Beck.
Increased Caring and Bonding In addition to the bond kids form with a pet, the shared responsibility of caring for an animal can encourage healthy relationships between students. Taking care of a classroom pet—whether a fish, guinea pig or reptile—gives students common ground to work as a team, learn to cooperate and form friendships. Pets can also help shy kids and those with performance anxiety, as an animal can be a less intimidating audience for a student than his peers. “Many children struggle with reading aloud,” says Dr. Beck, “but those who practice by reading to their classroom pets eventually overcome their anxiety and do better in school.”
New Curriculum Ideas When animals are used as tangible, relatable examples in lessons, students can become engaged and more easily understand the information. Teachers can bring new life to mixed fractions and five-paragraph essays by incorporating pets into their lesson plans in these ways:
—Mathematics: Instruct students to count the amount of food and water the pet needs in a day, week, month or year. Calculate the cost of feeding the pet by using play money to illustrate how much each trip to the pet store costs when purchasing supplies.
—Reading: Encourage students to read aloud to the pet and find reading materials that feature your pet’s species.
—Writing: Ask students to write an adventure story about the classroom pet, then share a new story each week.
—Art: Introduce students to new art projects starring your classroom pet.
—Science: Talk about the natural environment of the pet. Explain the difference between diurnal (animals active during the day) and nocturnal (animals active at night) animals.
—Computer Science: Get permission from the principal and the students’ parents to create a blog starring the classroom pet. Ask students to contribute drawings, stories and to help write a new entry each day or week.
From small animals and fish to reptiles, there are a wide variety of pets from which to choose for the classroom. Things to factor into the decision include children’s ages, pet-care experience, daily time requirements for care and lifespan. Both teachers and parents can stop by a PetSmart or other pet store and speak with an associate or visit PetSmart.com/Teachers to help make the decision easier.