As many of you know, pets are a wonderful source of happiness and inspiration. Educators have used animals in the classroom for decades. From a goldfish filled aquarium to the hamster who roams the classroom floor in his roller ball, there is no doubt that critters are a great educational tool.
As part of our Positive Discipline model at St. James, we believe in every child feeling a sense of belonging and significance within the classroom. As such, pets provide an excellent opportunity for children to contribute in a meaningful way to their classroom. As students take turns feeding and cleaning up after their pet, they learn that other living creatures are dependent upon them and this serves to build that sense of significance that is so vital.
Class pets positively affect the general disposition of the students in the classroom. Our youngest children rather than feel intimidated by a new teacher and classroom, are excited to see their special pet. Instead of tears, we see smiles and excitement at just the sight of a little hamster or guinea pig. Research has also shown that having a pet decreases tension across all ages.
Children also learn about their job as stewards of God’s creation. Observing and caring for an animal instills a sense of responsibility and respect for life and increases sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others – both animals and humans. There will be an understanding that all living things need more than just food and water for survival. Students will see how their behavior and actions affect others.
Additionally, an animal in the classroom creates improved learning experiences for students as all areas of the curriculum are enhanced. EG: Math (how much does a hamster weigh?) Science (what does a snake eat?) Geography (where does a ferret come from?) Social Studies (different cultures – different pets) and Language Arts (how can I describe the goldfish?). Students gain observational skills as they see, feel, touch and make connections to the wide world of animals.
Furthermore, other classes can visit the classroom pets and students can create presentations for them. For example, this year Miss Adams’ and Mrs. Mosinski’s classes will learn about their hamster and guinea pigs respectively. Then, they plan to visit together with their pets and teach the other class about their animal. The culmination will be a Venn Diagram talking about how hamsters and guinea pigs are alike and how they are different.
Pets are not for everyone or for every classroom, but they can serve as a teaching point for children. At St. James, we welcome the presence of many of God’s creatures to do just that.