The Benefits of Classroom Pets
The Environment Rating Scales, including the ECERS, ITERS, FCCERS, and SACERS, consider several different types of activities that encourage the development of a wide range of learning goals. One area of curriculum that is considered in all four scales is Nature/Science. The purpose of this item is to expose children to the natural world through a wide variety of materials that promote discovery and a beginning understanding of the scientific method. This can be achieved in several ways including collections of natural objects in the classroom (rocks, pinecones, leaves, etc.), books, games and toys that show science a nature in a lifelike manner, or science activities such as the use of magnets, sinking/floating activities, etc.
Aside from these examples, programs can improve the quality of the nature/science component of their curriculum by adopting a classroom pet. According to a study conducted by the American Humane Association (Ganzert and McCullough, 2015), the most popular classroom pets are fish, guinea pigs, and hamsters. These low-maintenance critters add invaluable benefits to any early childhood or school age classroom.
Although the most common types of classroom pets are confined to aquariums or cages, The Beehive Childhood Center, a local center that has been serving children in East Providence for 37 years, has two furry friends that are a part of the curriculum. Two Yorkshire Terriers, Satchel and Paige, are daily attendants of the center. “Satchel and Paige have been coming to work for the Beehive for 9 years. They take their job very seriously by waiting at the door for me to bring them to the center. They also wait at the top of the stairs at our center, greeting each child as they arrive,” adds Karen Boyd, the Beehive’s director. The calming presence of the dogs has had a positive effect on the children’s experience in child care. “Having Satchel and Paige at the Beehive teaches the children about empathy, kindness, caring, compassion and respect, which are all very important. They comfort and discipline our children when they are feeling or acting a certain way. For example, when a child is feeling sad, they sit or lay next to them, they wag their tail for excitement when they notice a child is feeling happy and bark when the children are not following the classroom rules,” she adds.
There are several reported benefits to having a classroom pet, including illustrating scientific concepts such as habitats, ecosystems, environmental conservation, climate, life cycles, and animal behavior. The benefits are not limited to the science curriculum, though. Additional benefits include encouraging children’s sense of responsibility and leadership, as well as providing a calm, relaxing relief from stress and anxiety. These are not only great ways to improve your curriculum, but also improving your ERS scores.