Having animals in the classroom is not by any means a new concept. When asking our national staff whether they had pets in their classrooms, many of us remember Guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters and rats with fondness. In fact, some of our academies have school pets today - including a dog! We wanted to explore the benefits of introducing an animal into the education setting.
Research has shown that pet ownership not only improves physical health (particularly with animals that require daily exercise), but psychological health too . Children are more likely to seek out and feel supported by their pets when they are struggling with emotional wellbeing, particularly those with special education needs. Classroom pets can be good for morale, and teach children necessary skills such as responsibility and an understanding of the needs of another living creature. Furthermore, they are a source for building confidence and self-esteem.
Having a pet in the classroom or school premises can be beneficial to learning too. In a study by Allen et al., (1991), they found that ownership of a dog, even without the comfort of touching their pet at the time, resulted in less stressful biological responses when performing highly difficult mathematical tasks. Moreover, in a survey of 1,000 pet owning children, 79% believed this had a positive effect on their learning in general. It has even been shown to increase school attendance.
You can bring examples of your school pet into the lesson plan for a number of subjects. For example, you could talk about the school Guinea pig and adjectives to describe it (English) or how fast it can run (Maths) even its cultural heritage (Geography). By connecting learning to something the children are emotionally drawn to, such as the class pet, they are able to connect new information in ways that mean they are less likely to disengage or lose motivation with. This enables them then to more easily consolidate their learning into memory.
Of course, having any pet, even without with the shared responsibility of belonging to a classroom or school, requires work and care, however the benefits are there. As long as you do your research and consider all aspects of school pet ownership, there could be an exciting new addition to your school family – and who knows, it could really change the life and learning of some of your students.
 Wells, M., & Perrine, R. (2001). Critters in the cube farm: Perceived psychological and organizational effects of pets in the workplace. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 81-
7. doi:10.1037/1076 -89126.96.36.199
 Allen, K. M., Blascovich, J., Tomaka, J., & Kelsey, R. M. (1991). Presence of human friends and pet dogs as moderators of automatic responses to stress in women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 582-589.