There are plenty of reasons why children love animals. They are interesting and silly. Many of their favorite characters in books, television, and movies are animals. They resemble something new and different. In terms of real-world animals in the classroom, there’s a potential to harness a child’s interest and turn it into something educational and comforting. However, there is more to incorporating animals in teaching than just cuddling a furry friend in the classroom.
Animals can be beneficial for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Lesson plans can become more interesting for students if they involve an animal. Children with special needs can feel a special connection to animals, which can help them in a classroom setting. Taking care of an animal instills responsibility and empathy. There are plenty of perks, but for teachers who are considering incorporating animals in their teaching in one way or another, preparation is important.
Real-Life STEM Education
There has been a big push for STEM subjects for students of all ages in recent years. As years go by, STEM education is becoming more important as more professions require some sort of knowledge in STEM areas. Schools are pushing more STEM activities in order to increase the diversity in these fields that tend to be heavily white and male in order to increase the opportunities for all children later in life. Though animals don’t have a lot to do with all STEM subjects, they can help to increase interest and demonstrate real-life applications in many of them.
Animal science has a place in biology, environmental science, anatomy, veterinary science, psychology, zoology, etc. Fostering an interest in animals can have a very real connection to a student’s interest in STEM subjects. Students will get to see their behavior, environment, and lifestyle in real-life applications.
Enriching Lesson Plans
Teachers can incorporate an animal in many lesson plans, which can help students to stay interested in a certain topic. This also helps them to visualize a lesson with something very familiar and dear to them. It makes a lesson unique, despite being imparting concepts all children will learn in one way or another. Children who feel connected to a classroom animal, or an animal they have met through their classroom in some way, may feel more enthusiastic about a lesson that includes that relationship.
For instance, an animal can be utilized in various lesson plans, such as discovering how much an animal weighs, what it eats, where it’s natural habitat is, or what words you’d use to describe the animal. Teachers can easily teach that concept in a number of ways, but utilizing a classroom animal or something similar can help them to visualize the lesson better and get more excited about learning the concept.
Helping Special Needs Children
Animals have a psychological effect on many people regardless of their circumstances. People use various types of animals as emotional support animals; dogs have been used to help those in a hospital setting; and some college campuses even invite animals to school during finals week to help their students with stress. Pet therapy has been used in many ways, such as to increase verbal communication skills, help symptoms of depression, alleviate anxiety, and boost self-esteem. Animals are comforting for those with PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and even children with autism or other special needs.
Animals are non-judgemental and highly intuitive. For children with autism, these attributes may aid in their ability to be social and happy. One study showed that children with autism who interacted with hamsters were more social in their speech, smiled more, were able to look in the faces of others, and made more physical contact with others. Children with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or developmental disabilities can relate to animals in the same way that a child on the spectrum would. Animals are interesting and new. They are easier to interact with and encourage children to be social and calm. They give children with special needs a sense of purpose and responsibility.
Building Responsibility and Empathy
Animals need a lot from their owners. They need to be fed, watered, and kept clean. They need social interaction and shelter. They need to be around people who will care for them and have their best interests in mind. Animals require you to be gentle and understanding — you need to have patience. These are often difficult behaviors for children to exhibit. Empathy is often something that is learned, and responsibility is something that is taught. Naturally, many children can be impulsive with animals.
Having an animal will help to teach children to be responsible. Teachers may use a classroom pet to teach responsibility by allowing the class to name it and take turns to feed it, water it, and keep it clean. This allows them to feel closer to the animal and offers a boost in self-esteem for caring for it. They will learn the importance of being nurturing and friendly and will have more awareness about how their actions will impact others. Teaching compassion for animals is so important in helping them to develop empathy, and incorporating animals in the classroom is one way to do that.
Preparing for an Animal in the Classroom
Having an animal in the classroom can be done in a few different ways. One includes bringing in a pet to visit every now and again. The other involves having a pet that belongs to the classroom. You can also have an animal handler bring in a pet or choose to foster a pet together. Each option will require a discussion with the school and the parents of each student. Some classrooms may have students who are allergic to certain animals or uncomfortable with having pets in the classroom. If that’s the case, perhaps a field trip to the zoo or an aquarium would be more fitting for hands-on animal experiences.
No matter which way a teacher chooses to go, it’s important to realize that the animal needs to be kept safe and cared for responsibly. This means supervising handling at all times and only bringing in animals that are suited for interaction with children. If a teacher chooses to get an animal for the classroom, it’s important to realize the animal belongs to them. This means the animal should be in the teacher’s care after school, during weekends, during holidays, and over summer break. It’s up to them to keep up with vet visits and be responsible for its overall well-being.
Suitable classroom pets can be small birds, fish, rodents, or reptiles. These animals are small, and happy within a cage with minimal human interaction. Some teachers may bring in a dog, cat, ferret, etc. to visit as their own form of incorporating an animal into their teaching. These animals can be social and great with children — but a bad choice to be in the classroom at all times.
No matter how an animal is introduced to a classroom, the benefits are still there. They can still increase interest in STEM learning, create enriching lesson plans, help special needs students, and build a sense of responsibility. At the end of the day, creating a bond between animals and children is something that students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.