There is no doubt that having a pet in class has many advantages, but there are also some disadvantages. In fact, the whole concept is full of controversy, with many speaking out for and against the use of animals in the classroom.
We’ll review the good and the bad and offer some suggestions on the best pets to choose from as well as the pets you should avoid. I hope we will help you make an informed decision before you take the first step.
What to Consider Before Committing to a Pet in the Classroom
Obviously, if you’re a teacher, you’ll need to think about all aspects of animal care and the impact it will have on you and your students (and parents). You will need to check if any of the students have allergies to animals appropriate for the class.
Then there’s maintenance. What type of housing will the animal need? You really need to pay attention to the requirements of each animal. Want to check the appropriate size of the speaker and will it fit your classroom? What is your potential pet’s diet?
What happens to the animal on weekends and holidays? Will you take it with you every weekend or will the children take it home in turn? You should also think about the age of the children in your class before choosing the right type of pet. The younger the children, the more robust the animal should be.
You also need to make sure that you can afford to take care of the pet – you need to take it to the vet if there is a medical problem.
Finally, you will need to consider how the animal will fit into your curriculum. The whole process will take a lot of time and effort, as well as your knowledge of the animal.
8 Benefits of Having a Pet in Class
There are most certainly many benefits to having a pet in class, so we’ll go over the benefits.
1. Social skills
Having a pet in the classroom can allow children to interact with the pet and other children. Pets can be a bridge for children to make friends with their classmates and give them the confidence to overcome conflict.
2. New ways to learn
Having a pet in the classroom will give you the opportunity to teach a variety of lessons based on the animal itself. A class animal can provide an interactive way to involve children in their studies, and you can use animal-based science, math, and even English homework. Children can learn about animal ecology and write articles about it (including creative writing).
3. Teaches responsibility
Children can take turns helping to take care of animal feeding, cleaning, and providing fresh water. These tasks should be performed every day, and you can teach children how to care for these animals.
Students can even take the animal home on weekends, which will give them the chance to be responsible for its well-being for a few days.
4. Builds self-esteem
By the following responsibility, the animal can give students a sense of accomplishment and pride while caring for the animal. Studies have even shown that children tend to have higher levels of self-esteem than those who do not have pets.
Children can form a powerful bond with their pets and will consider them friends. It’s no different in the classroom. Animals can give us unconditional love, which can give children strong emotional support. Even animals that are not cuddly like cats or dogs (like fish or turtles) can offer companionship to children.
6. Stimulated mental and emotional growth
Animals are known to help relieve anxiety and stress, and studies have shown how even being around an animal can help regulate your heart rate and breathing. This is why animals are commonly used in hospitals and why they can also contribute to a sense of calm in the classroom.
7. Enriches the classroom
Pets in the classroom can give children who don’t have pets at home the chance to interact with an animal. It may even offer children something to look forward to, and you might see an increase in attendance. They will feel more excited about their classes and will probably look forward to going to school every day.
8. Encourages education
In addition to making the student feel more responsible for caring for the animal, it can also provide the child with educational skills. It can teach children to be gentle, and these educational skills they learn as children are extremely important for their future.
According to the 2019 Pets in the Classroom Survey:
- 96% of teachers surveyed said having a pet in class was a positive experience
- Nearly 78% saw attendance improve
- 93% saw a decrease in anxiety in their students
- A whopping 98% saw an increase in compassion and empathy
- Nearly 78% saw academic improvement
- 92% saw an increase in self-esteem
- 86% of teachers saw a decrease in the use of discipline
- 95% saw their social skills improve
These numbers show that there are indeed many benefits to having a pet in your classroom.
7 Disadvantages/Dangers of Pets in the Classroom
There are, unfortunately, a number of problems with bringing a pet into the classroom. Most of the disadvantages affect pets the most.
1. Animals left alone overnight
Without anyone to monitor the animal during the night, there is always the risk that a sudden illness will go unnoticed. A pet in class could also suffer from extreme temperature fluctuations if the heating or cooling is turned off at night.
2. Pets remain unattended
Since pets cannot be monitored all the time, it is always possible for someone to abuse or kill the animal when the class is unsupervised.
3. Pets can be overhandled
When you have a classroom full of boisterous children and a small pet, it can be difficult to control the situation. Some animals can die of stress if handled by too many children at once.
4. The classroom is not a “home”
The classroom can be an inhospitable environment for many pets. Some small animals commonly used in classrooms are nocturnal, so they are supposed to sleep all day. Being in a bright and noisy classroom all day will disrupt their natural sleep patterns.
5. A lot of work for teachers
The chore of caring for the animal and ensuring its protection and health will ultimately fall to the teacher. Those who manage the classroom will need to determine if their budget can handle maintenance as well as any health issues that may arise.
6. Risk to the health of some children
There are allergies, communicable diseases and the risk of animal biting. Some children may be allergic to the animal you’ve chosen (which no one may know), and things like salmonella can be passed on after handling certain reptiles.
7. Can be a distraction
Although studies have shown that the animal can have a positive impact on studies and attendance, it can also be a distraction for some children. Students who have trouble concentrating may be easily distracted and will have more difficulty listening to the lesson in class.
5 animals to consider when choosing a pet in class
1. Guinea pigs
These guys make some of the best pets because of their ease of maintenance and because they are bigger than most other rodents. They are social animals, so you might consider buying a pair.
Rats are much less likely to bite than other pets traditionally used in the classroom (such as hamsters and gerbils). They are sensitive, intelligent and easy to care for.
Fish are easy to care for (be sure to look for the best types for this situation), but holidays and weekends can be tricky. They are pleasant to look at and can provide interesting lessons.
Looking at the life cycle of a frog would be a great lesson for children. However, salmonella is a risk, so you should either set up a “no frog handling” situation or ask children to wash their hands immediately after holding the frog.
5. Praying Mantis
This one is a bit unorthodox, but they are relatively easy to maintain and are also easy to handle.
Just be sure to do your own homework before settling on any of these pets. You’ll want to avoid putting them in unsuitable or overly small pens and make sure feeding them won’t be a challenge.
9 animals to avoid when choosing a pet in class
1. Sugar gliders
Sugar gliders are nocturnal and are fed in the evening, so students won’t see any activity or be able to watch them eat. They will also react to fear and may bite.
They are all nocturnal, do not like to be manipulated and can be excitable. They are also considered “exotic” and have special care needs.
3. Bernard the Hermit
These guys may be popular pets in class, but they will actually spend most of their time hidden in their shell. In addition, they can live from 20 to 30 years, it’s quite a commitment! However, they require little maintenance, so you can always consider one for your class.
Most reptiles do not like to be handled, so there is the risk of biting. Many of them also become quite large and have dietary needs that could bother some children (frozen mice, for example).
Birds can be quite noisy and messy and tend to nibble if overhandled. They may also become very stressed due to noise and activity in the classroom.
They are usually class pets, but they are nocturnal and prone to bite if disturbed.
Rabbits are a mixed bag. Some teachers have used them in the classroom with great success, while others do not recommend them. Being in a noisy classroom can be too stressful for most rabbits, and they need to be spayed or neutered. They also do not require maintenance.
If bringing a pet into the classroom isn’t on the cards, there are plenty of other options for kids to learn more about the world around them. You can consider taking the kids on trips to zoos and nature centers, inviting guest speakers to come to class with animals, and watching nature documentaries.
Choosing to bring a pet into your classroom is an important decision! The lessons your students will learn from this experience are absolutely invaluable, but you also need to think about the needs of the animal. I hope we’ve helped you decide which option is best for you and your students.