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Should You Have Pets in the Classroom?

written by: Tania Cowling • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 1/29/2014

Let’s face it, most children love animals. Going to the zoo or petting zoo is one of the most popular field trips requested by preschoolers. Some households have pets at home, but many others don’t.

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    So, the question is should teachers keep a pet in the classroom to allow children to feel the love of animals and also learn the responsibilities of taking care of pets?

    Pets are not toys that can be put on the shelf; these live animals need daily care. So, if you are considering adopting a pet for your classroom, think long term. Ask yourself, how will this pet be cared for on a daily basis? Where does this pet go for weekends? At the end of the school year? More than likely, the pet will belong to you and you’ll be the primary caretaker.

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    Which Pet Will Be Suitable for Your Classroom?

    Children love dogs and cats, but these animals don't necessarily make the best classroom pets. Your science center is the perfect spot for learning about pets and caring for one. But, which one? Dogs and cats are too large and need an abundance of daily care and potty visits outdoors, taking you away from the classroom, the kids and valuable learning time. So, thinking small is the answer.

    Guinea pigs are even-tempered and will accept lots of touching and handling without getting nervous. They are big enough for children to hold easily, slow enough to catch, and easy to find if they escape the class area.

    Rabbits are also as popular with kids, but they tend to be more high strung and could scratch if picked up suddenly. They make squeaky noises that entertain children and they love being hand-fed carrots, apples, and other crunchy raw fruits and vegetables.

    Gerbils and hamsters are close in popularity, although they are smaller and more likely to escape and get lost.

    Other animals to observe and learn from are birds, fish, land hermit crabs, and lizards. They can’t be handled like the animals above, but make entertaining pets in the classroom. They also need care in the form of feeding and keeping their living environments clean.

    Always check with your school administrators and local health department before purchasing a pet. There may be limitations on the types of animals that are allowed in the classroom and under what conditions the children may interact with them.

    Now, if you are running a home daycare center, the decision will be between you and the local government regulations. Don’t forget about the parents – they should be informed about your newest addition to the classroom and their voice should be heard about this new classmate.

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    Things to Consider

    Having a pet in the classroom involves maintenance, including cleaning cages and litter boxes. Cages are notorious for giving off an unpleasant odor if not cleaned daily. Again, check with your health department regarding student involvement in caring for pets. Can they handle the pets, the cages, the food, and so on? If they can help with the care, make a chore chart, so each child has a turn for care without the animals being fed twice or arguments on who does what.

    Now, along with the joy of pet care in the classroom come liabilities. Here are things to consider:

    • Some children are afraid of animals. Do you have a plan of action for this situation?
    • Allergies to pets are common in some children. Sometimes it’s not the pet, but the bedding materials that cause allergy symptoms.
    • Animals can cause injuries, such as bites, scratches, or pecks when handled.
    • Pet may carry infections and parasites that are transmissible to people. Have the pet examined by a veterinarian and make sure children wash their hands well when near or handling pets.
    • There may be parental objections to this classroom addition.
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    What Will You Do?

    Choosing to have a pet in the classroom involves a lot of responsibility and concerns. You must protect the children first, but also make sure the pet is safe as well. Sometimes the classroom is not the best environment for the pet -- it’s busy and noisy. This can be a stressful situation for the pet too. All laws of the school and community must be dealt with, as well as parental concerns.

    If having a pet in the classroom is not feasible, children can still learn about animals and their care by visiting zoos and aquariums. Think about hanging bird feeders near a classroom window to observe and identify its visitors. And you can always “adopt” a wild animal through conservation groups and follow your adoptee in literature and photos sent to your class.

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