One of the hot topics in educational and societal discussions today is how to build empathy and encourage compassion in the youth of today. As we continue to strive find ways to better both academic and character education, some teachers have found one tool that is having an impact in the lives of their students: classroom pets.
When small animal pets are part of the classroom pet experience, students are benefitting. Numerous studies show the positive impact pets can have on kids, and teachers are seeing this impact in the classroom as well. Students are not only more excited about learning, but they are also developing empathy and compassion by becoming aware of the needs of these animals and by seeing how their actions affect their little friends.
Marie Roberts, a teacher from Fort Worth, TX stated after getting her classroom pet at the beginning of the school year:
My students come from very poor, rough neighborhoods and homes. When school first started six weeks ago, I had to write multiple referrals per day for violent acts. Since Ella the Guinea Pig came to share our classroom, I have not any violent acts and the noise level has gone way down because they don’t want her to be frightened. They beg their families to let them bring a carrot stick from home or they ask me if they can save part of their lunch to share with her. The best part is watching the empathy they developed for Ella begin to transfer to their peers. Ella has done something in four weeks that I may or may not have been able to do all year.
Christy Wayman, a teacher from Grand Rapids, MI had a similar experience after introducing her classroom pet. She said, “I saw an improvement in the students’ ability to be compassionate with each other and with the pet. They learned about responsibility and the needs of living things. ”
Even educational assessment tools indicate classroom pets help teach empathy and compassion. Cen-Clear Child Services, a multi-faceted agency that provides diverse services to disadvantaged children, adults, and families in Central Pennsylvania, is encouraging its teachers to have pets in their classrooms because ECERS, a classroom assessment tool, suggests that it is beneficial for living things to be present in the room for students to care for and observe.
Amy Wible, the Child Development and Disabilities Coordinator at Cen-Clear Child Services stated: “It is something we promote because there are so many skills that children learn by having a class pet: self-regulation, compassion, empathy, observation skills, responsibility, etc., etc., etc . I could find child goals in every area of the standards related to caring for pets.”
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of classroom pets, please visit the Pets in the Classroom website, www.PetsintheClassroom.org. Pets in the Classroom is a grant program that provides funding to pre-kindergarten through 8th grade teachers for the purpose of purchasing and maintaining classroom pets.