Are you an animal person? I am! When I was teaching second grade, I had two ferrets donated to our class. I was so excited! But before they could be introduced to my students, they got fleas. I kept them at my house until they were flea-free. Unfortunately, during that time they developed some very unsanitary habits and they never made it into the classroom. Does your classroom have a class pet, or are you thinking of getting one? Here are some things to think about when you have a critter in your classroom.
From a Humane Society article, there are three important things for keeping and caring for a class pet: “…you must consistently provide all the care the pet needs, establish a classroom code of humane treatment, and remain vigilant in detecting and preventing students’ overhandling, mistreatment, or theft of the animal.” The children will look to you to know how to treat an animal properly.
There are also several reflective questions in the article to determine whether you and your class are ready for a pet. Some of them include “Why do I want a class pet?” “Am I prepared to include the pet in the school’s emergency evacuation plan?” and “Do any of my current students have asthma, allergies or other conditions that can be aggravated by the presence of animals?”
There are some definite pros and definite cons to having pets in the classroom.
- Teaching responsibility to the children: Of course, this means that the children will need to be participants in the care of the pet. That could mean that the children themselves feed the animal or clean its cage or are present when those things occur and it is used as a teachable moment.
- Having concrete science experiences: Discovering what the animal eats, what type of housing it needs, using multiple senses to study the animal (touching, smelling, hearing) and understanding how we are different from animals are just some of the great ways a pet can enrich the learning in the classroom.
- Relieving stress and tension: Whether it’s watching the fish swim in the fish tank, stroking the fur of a guinea pig or feeding treats to a turtle, interacting with the pet can be a way to calm a tense or angry child.
- Cost of care: Many classroom pets must go to the vet for immunization or when they get sick. Also, they may need special food, enclosures or accessories. Who will pay those costs?
- Health and safety concerns: Some animals can harm the children through transmission of diseases, a bite or a scratch. They could also trigger allergies the child may or may not be aware of.
- What if the animal dies? The children may have strong emotions or tough questions for days, weeks or months. How will you handle these?
Of course, there are alternatives to having classroom pets. You could bring in a speaker who is trained and knowledgeable with animals to do a demonstration or go on a field trip to a zoo, pet store or wildlife preserve. You could also set up feeders for squirrels or deer and baths for birds outside the classroom window. What have been your experiences? Do you do anything unique with animals in the classroom? Please share in the comments!