What Students can Learn from Caged Pets in the Classroom

All pets are wonderful teaching tools for children.

Aside from the traditional lesson of “responsibility” pets in the classroom can be helpful for teaching creativity, for helping children identify and communicate thoughts and feelings effectively, they can be used to teach Social Studies, History, Biology, Psychology, even using manners and developing simple practices of self-care.

It all begins with a creative teacher.

Creativity:
Animals are great themes to use for telling stories, writing poetry, or even making puppets and puppet shows. It all begins with a creative teacher. Ask your students to tell a story about the class “hamster”, Harry, for instance. You can give as much or as little direction as you choose. “Make up a story about Harry the Hamster.” Gives little direction, and allows children almost total creative freedom, whereas “Tell a story about what happened the day that Harry the Hamster got sent to the principals office” gives children creative freedom, but within a more limited setting. You can teach the elements of story-writing, literary devices used, talk about setting, characters, dialog, and plot. Get Harry’s opinion on the stories, and help children learn how to critique their own, and other people’s work. The same ideas can be used for story-telling, writing poetry, or making puppets and performing a puppet show, where the lead character is a “Harry puppet” made by children.

Conveying Thoughts and Feelings:
Pet therapy is a very successful approach to helping children learn to express their emotions. Harry the hamster is a great tool for helping children learn to identify and express their emotions, to give honest opinions, and to learn valuable social skills. Begin each day asking the children to guess how Harry is feeling today. Children often find it easier to convey their true feelings upon another person or thing, so if one child says that Harry is mad, you have an indication from that child that something is bothering them. After the children have had a chance to respond, you can also check in with Harry. Terms like mad, sad, lonely, happy, content, upset, annoyed, and a hundred others can be used to teach new words for the feelings children have. Discuss “why” Harry is feeling a certain way today, and ask children if they are feeling, or have ever felt the same way.

Social Studies is a fun way to use animals in your classroom. Research the area where the animal comes from. Show pictures, or read stories from this region. Use your pet to help answer questions such as “What is it like to live in ….” or “What do people eat in…”

Biology/Life Sciences:
What better way to teach children about biology and life science, than by having a living example in your own classroom? Teach children terms like “climate” and “habitat”, talk about the life cycle, talk about prey and predators, and ask your pet how it feels to be either prey or predator, in the wild. Use terms such as nocturnal or diurnal. Discuss animal classification methods such as mammals, or reptiles, or amphibians. Talk about natural instincts. Talk about sickness, disease and germs, as well as anatomy and other health related Sciences. Encourage good self-care, by introducing words like diet, nutrition, exercise, and healthy behavior.

The uses for pets in the classroom are only as limited as the teachers creativity and desire to include the pet as part of the daily curriculum plans.