Tag Archives | pets

Pets for Your Classroom (Real & Virtual)

Students definitely benefit from having pets in the classroom.  It provides the students with a sense of pride and the ability to be a care taker.  Caring for a pet encourages shared responsibility.  Studies have shown that it doesn’t matter if the pet is live or virtual, the same teaching outcomes can be achieved.

For special needs students, pets can provide an outlet for students to reduce tension, take responsibility, and learn how to care for the animal.  These skills can then be transferred through teacher-based lessons that make the connections between caring for the animal to caring for oneself including health and hygiene.


Live Pets in the Classroom

When I did my student teaching in a fourth grade classroom, I donated a fish tank full of colorful inexpensive, fish with the approval (and excitement) of my preceptor and supervisor.  I had a tank in my home for many years and was comfortable with the care and could coach the teacher.   This was a great teaching tool that was easy to take care of in a classroom setting.  Students would offer to come in early to help with the tasks associated with the care including feeding, water changes, water testing, and even tank cleanings. Parents also volunteered supplies for the care of the fish and one parent even helped to buy additional fish.  The local aquarium store owner and staff are always willing to help teachers with their tanks and are a valuable community resource.

The learning connections included teaching the students about the various types of fish in the tank, their diet, where the fish could be found in the wild, and their water needs (appropriate pH, ammonia, and nitrate levels).  When we first got the tank, each student was assigned one of the fish in the tank to research.  They then made PowerPoint presentations to share with the class about what they learned about their new pet.

One of the most exciting moments for the class was when the guppy had babies.  The babies must be separated immediately from the mother for them to survive.  Make sure you are prepared with a separation device that can be purchased from the fish store so the mother will not eat the babies.  This can be a teachable moment, but will need to be handled with sensitivity if you want to share this fact with your students.

One other tool that is definitely handy to have for break times or long weekends is an automated feeder.  This doses out a daily serving of fish food automatically.

Other pets that are classroom friendly, but require a bit more care, include rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and turtles.  When choosing a pet, you should definitely research the temperament, care, and allergy concerns of that animal.  Then, you can determine if it will meet the needs of your classroom.  A plan should definitely be in place for the care of the animal including daily care and preparations for care over long weekends and breaks.

Here are some great online resources to help you plan to have a live animal in your classroom:

1.        KinderArt:  Pets in the Classroom

2.       Teacher Classroom Web:  Classroom Animals and Pets

3.       Suite 101:  Selecting the Right Classroom Pet

Virtual Pets

A great alternative to live pets in the classroom is a virtual classroom pet.  I know many think of the Tamagotchi or Neopets when they think of a virtual pet. The Tamagotchi is a keychain virtual pet that has to be fed, cleaned, played with, and overall cared for like a live pet.  The keychain makes noises to indicate needed care.  Neopets is an online virtual pet store where students create an account, care for their pet, and play games to “pay” for the care and fun items for their pet.  This site is run by Nickelodeon and has a very large child following.

Another similar virtual pet website is called Adopt Me.  The classroom (or individual students) can create an account and adopt a virtual pet like a virtual cat, horse, dog, or fish.  Students get to name their pet.  They can then travel around town, provide care, and play with their pet.   Students can see their friends pets online through their login information.  The pets can also have jobs to earn money to help pay for the care and fun times with the pet.  Another great classroom connection is that the students can blog about their pet through this website.

There is also an alternative to the traditional virtual pet where students can “adopt” wild animals and follow them via GPS tracking devices.  Last year, my 7th grade class “adopted” a loggerhead sea turtle named FeeBee.  She is a GPS tagged turtle that was released by an environmental complex and nature center called Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton, Florida.  The students were able track Fee Bee daily to see her movements in the ocean via a website called  Many animals can be adopted online via this website for the students to follow via GPS tracking devices including sea turtles, sharks, birds, and sea lions.  This website also provides teacher materials to help you to plan how to implement this type of activity in the classroom.  I planned the adoption of Fee Bee in the summer and developed many academic lessons and classroom activities around this “pet” for the entire semester.  The project was evaluated as highly successful by administrators, parents, and students. Unfortunately, GPS systems may cease transmission and this must be considered carefully when choosing this type of adoption for a classroom project.  Feelings of loss occur just as with the death of classroom pet.

Whether real or virtual, pets can definitely add a fun and interactive way for students to be excited about learning.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By missbakersflickr

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon by MangoMon


How Pets Help Individuals with Special Needs

Pets can help students with special needs in so many different ways.  They can be used in therapy to help calm students or to provide a non-threatening communication aide.  Animals can also be used for physical therapy to help strengthen muscles.  The animal most associated with helping children with special needs is the dog; however horses and dolphins are also regularly used in therapy and assistance.


Leader Dogs for the Blind

I grew up in a town that has an organization called Leader Dogs for the Blind.  This group trains dogs and provides them to individuals with visual impairments to help them lead a more independent and mobile life.   This is the only program in the United States to train individuals who are deaf and blind to work with a guide dog.

Volunteers raise the dogs through their first year on socialization and obedience.  After the dog has been trained, the individual receiving the dog goes through a month long program where they learn how to interact and work with the dog, including teaching the dog sign language.  The program is free to the recipient of the dog.  Their website has additional information along with inspirational stories and videos of individuals working with the guide dogs.

Leader Dogs for the Blind also has a program for students to get involved with their organization.  There are materials on their website with lesson plans for teachers about vision and leader dogs.  This could be a great organization for students to get involved with and help raise money for this great organization.

Dolphin Human Therapy

There are two organizations that employ the use of animals to assist students with special needs in the area where I currently live:  Dolphin Human Therapy and Horses for the Handicapped.  Dolphin Human Therapy, based out of Miami, is an organization that helps individuals with special needs through swimming with dolphins.   After one or two weeks of interaction the dolphin’s, students showed gains in speech, language, motor , and behavior skills.  Families and teachers are closely involved during the process.  The dolphin therapy was a successful motivator for the students.  Dolphin Human Therapy does not currently run therapy programs in Miami, but now helps other organizations to build similar programs based on their research findings.

Horses and the Handicapped

Horses and the Handicapped is another South Florida based program where students with special needs can ride horses.  The horses help to provide a connection for the students and gains have been made including physical, mental, and emotional aspects.  The program has grown tremendously over the past 20 years and now runs a summer program for students with special needs along with serving over 130 riders.  Their facilities include a covered arena and technology equipment to help riders on and off the horses.  Many local high school students volunteer their time to help this program.  Riders have also been involved in the local and State Special Olympic Equestrian matches.

There are also many other organization around the country that train various animals to help individuals with special needs.  Check out local organizations near you to volunteer or to gain more information for your students and their parents!

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Velo Steve

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon by MangoMon


© 2016 Smart Tutor LLC. All Rights Reserved.