Educating the Educators

The Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom program is proving that classroom pets help kids learn.


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The Pet Care Trust’s (PCT) Pets in the Classroom program set two new milestones this year. The program, which provides teachers in grades pre-K through 8th with grants to fund a classroom pet, awarded more than 19,000 grants during the 2015-16 school year. This is the largest number of grants awarded in a single school year since the program’s inception in 2011. Even more impressive, it brings the total number of grants awarded to 76,148. Three million children now have a chance to observe and interact with a small animal, reptile, aquarium fish or bird thanks to Pets in the Classroom.

This is more than just a feel good story for the pet industry. The program is making a real difference in the lives of kids throughout North America. Teachers regularly relate stories of the profound impact that their classroom pets have made—from coaxing shy kids to be more confident readers to helping children with behavioral issues or autism-spectrum disorders relieve stress. 

Fourth-grade teacher Erica Hornick wrote, “I just wanted to…let you know about the wonderful things our bearded dragon (Charlie) has brought to our classroom. I teach fourth grade, and getting students to write is often difficult, but if I ask for research on Charlie they all jump right to it, and I get more work from students than ever before. My students who have difficulties concentrating perform much better on these assignments. I also have a couple of autistic students and he often sits with them and helps them on days when things are out of sorts. It is amazing!”

A landmark study released last year revealed that having a class pet can teach children important values like compassion, empathy, respect and responsibility for other living things, as well as giving them much-needed leadership skills and stress relief. Conducted by the American Humane Association (AHA) for PCT, phase one of the Pets in the Classroom study surveyed nearly 1,200 teachers who had received grants.

PCT has just engaged AHA researchers to conduct phase two of the study, which will measure the social, behavioral and academic effects of classroom pets. Matched pairs of classrooms—half with class pets and half without—will be studied over the course of a full school year to determine if children who have a pet in the classroom experience increased social skills and competence, decreased problem behaviors, and improved academic performance. 

The results of this study could demonstrate to the academic community that pets are not only a nice enhancement to the classroom environment, but actually help kids learn better. Teachers regularly express their frustration with administrators who prohibit pets in classrooms over excessive concern with disease transmission, allergies or bites. While these concerns are real and precautions must be taken to minimize such incidents, the benefits of classroom pets far outweigh these preventable issues. After all, 76,000 teachers with classroom pets can’t be all wrong.


Steve King is a 35 year veteran of the pet industry. He is currently president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association and executive director of the Pet Care Trust.

 

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