PITC - Gerbils in the Willow Room LessonIncorporating classroom pets into lesson plans can be both educational and fun. Emily Colwell and Michelle Colby, teachers at Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center and winners of the Pets in the Classroom Curriculum Contest, built an incredible lesson plan for their students built around their classroom pet gerbils. With a lot of the lesson plan based on feedback from the students, Ms. Colwell and Ms. Colby provided a real-life, hands-on learning experience for their students that their students will never forget. Some of the activities included: Voting on gerbils’ names, baking gerbil treats, creating a gerbil adventure land, making a kid-sized gerbil area, using the gerbils as journal prompts, making gerbils toys, and having a birthday celebration for the gerbils.

As Ms. Colwell stated, “A lot of the ideas for our lesson plan came from the kids.  One day we were discussing what it was like to be a gerbil and the children comment how they wished they could be a gerbil. So we talk about the different things they wanted to do as a gerbil. Michelle and I discussed it and decided, ‘why not?’  So we turned the pretend play area into a kid-sized gerbil area.   One time they really wanted to make treats for the gerbils, and another time gifts for the gerbils. The gerbils really were such a part of the classroom, so as the kids asked questions or had ideas, we incorporated these into the lesson plans.”

While the teachers may have been  winners of the contest, the students are the real winners in this story. Not only did they get to have a fun, interactive educational experience, but they also learned some important social and emotional skills.

“Having the gerbils has really sprung some discussion on empathy and how the gerbils feel,” said Ms. Colby.  “The kids know that the gerbils do not like it is loud, so they try to maintain a certain noise level. They are aware that the gerbils need to be cared for and asked what happens to them during the fire drill or over the weekend.  They have really sprung some great discussions. We saw huge growth in them throughout the year.”

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