The involvement of pets in the classroom has become more and more popular lately. In fact, a study carried out by the Waltham Centre has recently found that “the inclusion of animals in a classroom setting can have an indirect effect on learning by directly affecting motivation, engagement, self-regulation and human social interaction.”
Whether the pet in the classroom is a permanent member of the class, for example a pet Guinea pig or a fish tank full of colorful fish, or whether it’s a dog that visits on certain days to sit with children and listens to them reading, there are a number of correlations between pets and how well children study.
In this article we’re going to take a look at a few of the reasons why pets are so beneficial in the classroom, and particularly in helping children study.
1. Pets Build Self Esteem and Empathy
A research psychologist from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles says that “the child who cares for a pet knows what he does matters, and so he’ll want to do more of it. The more successfully he feeds, walks or emotionally bonds with the pet, the more confident he’ll feel.”
Another study by the Waltham Centre has shown that children who have pets actually have a higher level of self-esteem than those without pets.
Research has found that there is a positive relationship between children’s self-esteem and that of academic achievement.
Therefore, the more we concentrate on building the self-esteem of children, the more likely they are to try that math challenge which is slightly harder than they’re used to, because they’re not as worried about making a mistake.
2. Children are more likely to Follow Instructions around Pets
A survey – which included 1,400 teachers – found that almost 70% of them use pets in the classroom and reported improvements in attention, motivation, mood and wellbeing, socio-emotional development, empathy and cognitive development.
When children are more likely to follow instructions, they will be more engaged with the lesson and more likely to ask appropriate questions and engage with their teacher.
3. Pets Create New Learning Experiences
Whether teachers have a fish tank in their classrooms, a hamster or guinea pig, or just invite students to bring their pets in on special occasions, children can learn so many things either directly from the animal or when the teacher uses them in a math problem.
For example, how much does the dog weigh or even what’s the cost of feeding a pet for a whole year. Animals can also be used to teach children about science, looking at the properties of water in the fish tank, the nitrogen cycle and fish’s natural habitats.
There are so many educational benefits, related especially to science and nature, which having a pet in the classroom can introduce to the student’s daily lives.
Pets also teach children to be responsible, especially if they are required to help out with the daily chores such as feeding, cleaning the animal’s cage or tank out and looking after them.
4. Pets Alleviate Anxiety and Reduce Stress
According to a study carried out by the American Humane Association, the second most common reason for having a classroom pet was to “provide calm and relaxation when children are stressed….”
One example of this is to sit and watch an aquarium. Researchers from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that watching fish “led to noticeable reductions in participant’s blood pressure and heart rate.”
Another study carried out in the 1980s found that watching fish can reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%.
Fear and anxiety can affect children’s learning and development. When children are less anxious and stressed, they are much more open to learning. They need a safe and secure environment where they can remain as happy and calm as possible, and therefore remain open to learning as effectively as possible.
If you’re a teacher looking to introduce a pet into your classroom, the American Humane Association revealed that the most common classroom animals are fish.
Fish are easy to look after, yet can give children a great sense of responsibility and help to decrease an anxiety or stress they are experiencing, simply from watching them for a few minutes.
We hope to see more research carried out into this interesting area over the next few years, to see if there are any further benefits which can be reaped from introducing pets into the classroom.
Author: Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a website which teaches anyone who wants to keep fish, learn how to do so safely. From beginners to experts, Robert shares his last thirty years of fishkeeping experience with everyone to pass on his love and passion for all things aquatic.