We’ve heard it in stories and watched it in movies: dogs walking students to school and waiting for them outside the classroom. We’ve heard stories about the entire class keeping a parrot or a turtle as a classroom pet.
When you think about it, it has to be fun. The students have something that brings them all together. But is the pet a source of distraction, too?
A research study from the American Humane Association showed that classroom pets aren’t just for fun. In fact, they can enhance the learning process from multiple aspects. It’s an important study that intended to figure out how animals can enhance prosocial behavior, compassion, and learning skills among students.
How Classroom Pets Improve Students’ Learning Skills
- They Improve Research and Writing Skills
The study by the American Humane Association revealed something interesting. When asked “How do you use your classroom pet,” most teachers said that it was there for the students to interact with, but they didn’t create a formal teaching plan around it. Almost 80% of the teachers also said they use the pet for “other” teaching methods.
One of the most interesting applications was for non-fiction and technical writing, including research and grammar.
Just think about it: the pet is already there to serve as a topic. It inspires the students to know more about its origins, way of life, eating patterns, body functions, and everything else related to it.
What do students do when they are asked to write an essay? Most of them struggle. Some will go to professional services asking: “can you write my essay?” When teachers give them direct inspiration, this challenging aspect of education becomes much more enjoyable. The students will want to know more about the animal, so they will make an effort to research and write about it.
- Pets Make an Important Behavioral Impact
Many of the teachers who participated in the study also said that they used interactions with the pet as a reward for the students.
This method works really well. When an animal is introduced into the formal classroom settings, it inspires the students to focus on the teacher’s instructions. They will do that because they will look up to the reward that follows after focus time. If the teacher wraps up the lesson and they quickly go through the Q&A session, they will have enough time to interact with the pet.
The teachers noticed an increase in positive behaviors and a decrease in emotional outbursts during lectures.
- Pets Make the Students More Responsible
By taking care of the pet, the students will develop a sense of responsibility. The teacher will assign a different team each week to feed the animal. They will learn about proper timing and portion size. They will care about the pet’s health, and they will make sure it’s okay before they leave the classroom.
This sense of responsibility will reflect on everything else they do.
The students will develop an enhanced awareness of other people’s feelings and needs. They will think twice before they hurt someone with their words or actions.
Of course; it’s the teacher’s responsibility to relate the pet to different situations, so the students will understand that they should care for people, too.
- Pets Are a Great Stress Relief
Too much homework, upcoming tests, and a packed schedule are common causes of stress among students. The formal environment of the classroom contributes to the pressure. The students feel like robots, being watched and judged on their performance all the time.
A classroom pet can change that.
One teacher, who participated in the American Humane Association study, was impressed by the way children lightened up as soon as they started feeding the pet.
Fish, in particular, brings a great sense of peace and calm in the classroom. Another teacher said that the sole sound of running water made the classroom environment relaxing.
Any kind of pet can easily make the classroom less formal and less intimidating.
Make Both Children and Animals Happy
What will happen with the pet when these students leave school? Are pets going to college? In most cases, the teacher takes responsibility, and future generations inherit the animal. It will make new friends, who will keep taking care of it.
There are some concerns regarding the happiness of the pet. Will it be happy in the classroom environment? It all depends on proper care. It’s best for the teacher to take the pet in their home when they leave the classroom.
The teacher must also make sure that the pet will not pose a risk to the students. Many students suffer from asthma and allergies, which can be triggered by certain pets.
Bringing a pet into the classroom is a great idea. You just have to make sure it’s safe both for the children and for the animal.
BIO: Jeremy Raynolds loves exploring the field of education. He is committed to finding ways to improve a student’s capacity to learn effectively. You can follow his journey on Twitter, where he shares links from his work.