Pets, or No Pets?

photo-9Classroom pets are a fun part of any classroom; some give kids something to pet and play with, while others are just for observation, but all of them give the kids an opportunity to take care of something and to learn more about an animal. Teachable moments present themselves often in a classroom with a pet.

Kids learn all about a specific animal, what they eat, how they bathe, how often they need to have their cages cleaned, and how to properly approach them. Classroom pets also provide an opportunity to have another job in the classroom, aiding in teaching responsibility, and it can help kids slowly get over fear that they may have for a certain animal.  Pets in the home can provide the same learning opportunities as well as an additional playmate.

Considering Classroom Pets

However, before choosing a classroom pet, a teacher must think long and hard, that is if the school even allows it. Many schools won’t allow classroom pets due to allergies, or sicknesses that can be passed from animals to people, especially with reptiles and amphibians, but kids can get animals sick too. Before deciding to add a pet to the classroom, a teacher must take the following into consideration:

-How “high maintenance” is this pet going to be?

-What is the age of the students, and what level of responsibility for this pet can they handle?

-Do the students have any allergies?

-Should the class have a permanent pet, or one that visits for a few weeks?

-What is going to be the cost of general pet upkeep?

-Are you willing to take the pet home to care for it over the Summer?

A few years ago…

I taught at a preschool for a few years, and one year our class was given a chinchilla. The kids loved it! They named it, they took care of it, we had a job for someone to help clean the cage twice a week, and I even made a book to teach the children all about chinchillas and how to care for them and handle them. He was pretty self-sufficient, so as long as his cage was clean and his food and water were full, he could stay at the school for the weekend with no problem, but for longer breaks we had to make arrangements for someone (me) to take him home.

Then, the years changed and new kids came into our room and one little girl was allergic to our chinchilla. The poor girl could hardly breathe without sneezing, and her eyes were constantly itchy, so we had to find our chinchilla a new home and we got a fish. The fish was even less maintenance than the chinchilla, so it allowed our class to host other visitor pets as well. We hatched eggs and had chicks in the class for a few weeks, and we watched as caterpillars made cocoons and turned into butterflies, plus the owner of the school would often bring her dog to work (which was pretty stressful for the chinchilla).

Personally, I preferred the visitor pets in our classroom because it kept things interesting, kept things moving; no one got bored of the animals before they had to leave, and there was always something new to learn about. And, the best part about the visitor pets was that I never had to take them home with me over summer break.

Considering Pets at Home

The considerations you must take into account before getting a pet for your home are not so different than those of a teacher thinking about a class pet:

-Do your children want this pet?

-How “high maintenance” is this pet going to be?

-Who will be taking the responsibility for caring for this pet?

-How much will the upkeep costs be for the life of this pet?

-Do you, your children or spouse have any allergies?

Choice Time

If you are unsure about any of the considerations about getting a pet, the best thing to do is to either, not get one, or take it slow.  First start off with smaller, low-maintenance animals with short life spans.  Starter pets such as gold fish or even small hampsters are good.  If you are wanting to jump right into a larget pet, like a dog or a cat, maybe offer your home to sit for family’s/friend’s pets when they go on vacation.  This will allow you to have a trial of sorts in taking care of an animal in your home.  Remember, pets are great for a child’s development and learning, but the pet you choose needs to be a good fit for your family.