Pets in Education

Daphne Reid
by Daphne Reid
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Teachers have used animals in lessons for decades, and pets can be an exciting addition to the classroom, and a great educational tool. However, there are lots of things to consider before rushing out to a pet store.

Benefits of Pets in Learning

Animals can teach children about human behavior and body language. Arguably, learning to care for animals can be the first stage in learning to care for others, and pets can teach social responsibility. Although, interestingly, there are those who say children need to know something about responsibility first.

Pets can also help teach kids about some of the really big issues, including death and reproduction. Regular contact with animals can also make children calmer, more co-operative and able to concentrate for longer. One study of elementary schools in Australia found that pets improved class cohesiveness while helping to create an orderly environment.

Equally, pets can be great for encouraging withdrawn pupils to talk and open up, often succeeding where teachers, fellow pupils and even parents have struggled. Green Chimneys School, 65 miles north of New York City, has 300 children with emotional, behavioral, social and learning challenges. The animals are central to its ethos. Each student is assigned an animal, and the school has a 165-acre farm and a wildlife center. Once they've been with the animals, the pupils often find it easier to talk to someone else.

There are health benefits for pupils, too. One study from England's Warwick University found that animals in the classroom reduced absence by an average of up to nine days a year per child.

How to Use Pets in Class

Pets can be used for all sorts of subjects, from inspiring creative writing to budgeting for its food and upkeep in math class. One theory is that using animals to teach raises children's level of interest and triggers important learning techniques. In particular, pets have been shown to help under-achieving students. But teachers should consider how an animal will be integrated into their classroom, and be sure that learning goals couldn't be just as easily achieved with, say, field trips, a DVD or soft toys.

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