Blog post created by Sam Cryer, Greenhill Humane Society volunteer
Did you know that pets make great assistant teachers? Studies have shown that students pay more attention and are better able to focus when there’s an animal in the classroom. Animals can also help kids regulate their emotions and engage more fully in learning. Plus, pets can make a learning environment a lot more fun!
With the challenges of COVID-19, your child’s educational experience is going through a lot of changes. But pets can help them adjust and even thrive in this new mix of in-person, online, and at-home learning. Whether you’re teaching your child at home, supporting them with distance learning, or just helping with homework, try these fun ideas for including pets in the learning experience.
Ideas to Incorporate Pets in Learning
Math – Do you know what your hamster weighs? Once you figure it out, you can make math a lot more fun for your kiddo by helping them convert their hammy’s weight from ounces to grams. Maybe they can even venture into the world of decimals and percentages by converting to pounds!
Science – How exactly does a wolf turn into a pug? Genetic mutation, natural selection, and evolution, of course! Make science a little more fun by having your kids draw what the in-between stages might have looked like—a curly-tailed wolf with a funny nose? A huge pug with shaggy fur?
Geography – Where did your pet’s ancestors come from? Have your kids collect some fun facts about South America that they can share with their guinea pig, or create a quiz: for each question your child answers correctly, let them feed a small, healthy treat to their pet.
History – Do your kids know that cats played a starring role in ancient Egyptian culture, daily life, and religion? What would your kitty’s life have been like if she’d been born in the land of the pyramids thousands of years ago?
Language Skills – Have your child write about their pet to an imaginary pen-pal who’s never seen this kind of animal before. What would be some good words to describe a ferret? A turtle? A rabbit?
Kiddos can also read to their pets! Reading to a pet can help young learners develop their reading skills and their sense of compassion.
Learning with pets can be fun for both kids and animals—as long as it’s done safely. Be aware of common school supplies, art materials, and even lunchbox ingredients that may be toxic to pets. Buy only non-toxic school and art supplies (and still try to keep them away from pets, as ingesting these can cause obstruction even if they’re not poisonous). And keep lunchboxes, backpacks, and school projects out of reach of your furry family members.
Here are a few common school-related pet toxins:
Grapes and raisins
Cold packs used to keep foods cold
Medications and inhalers
Baking soda (sometimes used in homemade science projects)
Homemade slime (often contains ingredients like laundry detergent or borax that are very dangerous to pets)
Homemade salt dough
Balance Education with Fun
Of course, there are lots of awesome things kids can do with their pets that don’t involve academics. Interacting with pets just for the fun of it can help kids develop empathy and other important social skills. Here are some fun ideas from Greenhill’s Behavior Program Coordinator, Lauren Rubin:
Kong Sundae Bar – Get kids involved in rewarding pets. Have kiddos stuff a Kong with fun, dog-safe foods.
Treat Fairy – Have kids hide treats around the house while their pet is outside or in another room. Then they can let their pet in for a treasure hunt.
Stuff in a Box – Sometimes, boxes are just as much fun as an expensive store-bought toy. Your kids can stuff a cardboard box full of treats, toys, crumpled paper and other fun, pet-safe items. For dogs, you can seal the box and then let them figure out how to open it and get everything out. As your dog gets better at it, you can increase the difficulty by putting boxes inside other boxes! For other animals, like cats or rabbits, you may want to leave the box open and just set it near them to encourage them to dig and explore.
Whatever methods you choose, we hope these ideas will help your kids and their pets have a fun, safe, and interactive learning environment.