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The Benefits of Pets in the Classroom

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Forget the mundane lectures, teachers today are getting more interactive and hands-on in their efforts to help students develop crucial skills and values. One of the ways they do this is with a classroom pet. What was once reserved for early childhood classrooms is now reaching students of all ages.

Sharing a classroom with a furry, slimy, or scaly animal has numerous benefits. Aside from providing a firsthand look at the life of another creature, classroom pets teach students important lessons on compassion, empathy, respect, and responsibility for other living things. The presence of an animal also helps kids develop leadership skills and stress-coping mechanisms.

With the school year deep in session, we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the many positives of pets in school.

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COMPANIONSHIP

Most small animals love human contact and can become a child’s best friend. Even non-responsive pets such as fish or turtles can evolve into significant relationships for students. Bonding with an animal offers a safe space to share sadness or frustrations, allows a child to practice initiating conversations, and makes children feel special when a pet responds positively to his actions. This strengthens students’ overall social skills, which in turn positively impacts their performance in school.

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RESPONSIBILITY

No matter their age, there is a job for every student when it comes to the care of a class pet. Students learn the importance of routine and repetition, and how their actions impact an animal’s health and well-being. They also learn that all living things need more than just food and water for survival, and begin to understand more about how their behavior affects others.

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SELF ESTEEM

Taking care of a class pet offers children a sense of pride and accomplishment. “The child who cares for a pet knows that what he does matters, and so he’ll want to do more of it. The more successfully he feeds, walks, or emotionally bonds with the pet, the more confident he’ll feel,” says Shari Young Kuchenbecker, Ph.D., a research psychologist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

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CARE

A pet brings increased sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others. Students quickly learn that if they want to be trusted by an animal, slow, soft, and loving touch is needed. Kids must be careful and kind. This lesson can be especially important to small boys who may not have as many opportunities in our society as girls to practice nurturing skills.

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NEW WAYS TO LEARN

From math (“How many pellets do we need to feed our hamster per week?”), to science (“What does our snake eat?”), to geography (“Where do hermit crabs typically live in nature?”), to grammar (“Describe how the rabbit’s fur feels”), teachers can create lessons based around familiar scenarios. When their animal companion is involved, students approach learning with greater enthusiasm and interest.

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– Children who spend time with pets show significantly higher levels of immune system performance.

– Students with pets average more days at school every year than their pet-free counterparts.

– 53% of kids enjoy doing homework with pets nearby.

– The presence of animals tends to lessen tension among students.

– Children with pets have higher levels of self-esteem than those without pets.

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