The best way to learn about animals is to live with them. Using this direct approach to education, children learn about animals through observation and caring for classroom pets. Concepts taught include:
-The needs of animals for food, water, clean shelter, and attention from the caregiver
-Love, compassion, and humane treatment of animals
-The beauty and variety of animals that can be pets in homes
Dramatic Play: Create a Pet Shop
Before adopting a real classroom pet, turn your dramatic play into an imaginary pet shop. Have each child bring in a favorite stuffed animal. Discuss if each animal is appropriate for your class space. Chart the animals that children bring in categories, such as zoo, farm, or household pets. What type of shelter does the pet need? What do you feed the pet? How do you keep your pet happy and healthy?
Choosing a Pet
Good long-term classroom pets include:
-Ants in a Farm
The following make good pets for a short time in the classroom:
Note: a caregiver must take these animals home in the evening and on weekends.
After deciding on your favorite classroom pet, it’s time to discuss the pet’s basic needs. Reinforce the same type of questions that were presented in the imaginary pet shop.
-Where in the room would the pet be most comfortable?
-What kind of food does it eat?
-What kind of shelter or cage is needed?
-Discuss that your pet is a living creature that needs to be respected. Don’t scream near the pet – it may become scared.
-If possible, invite a veterinarian to visit your class. Discuss animal care and let the vet examine your classroom pet.
– Let the children pantomime different animals. Act out animals playing, stretching, and walking.
-Create your own cassette tape of pet sounds. Replay this listening exercise and ask the children to name the animal and repeat the sounds it makes.
-Let each child make and decorate paper plate masks of her favorite pet. Parade around the classroom, making lots of pet sounds.
-Model your pet out of clay.
-Tell and write on a chart an original story about your classroom pet. Let every child add a sentence. Re-read the entire story to the class and then display it in the book corner.
As young children learn about taking care of classroom pets during a school theme, it gives them the knowledge and incentive to become a caregiver of a special pet at home. Introducing children to animals is a fun and educational topic to cover.
Personal experience in the classroom
Note- you must check with school and town ordinances for live classroom pets.