A Lesson that Hits Home
The Pets in the Classroom program is not only helping kids to be more engaged in school, it is driving increased pet ownership in the home.
When the Pet Care Trust introduced the Pets in the Classroom program in 2011, the goal was to help teachers engage their students through the care of a classroom pet. Pets enrich the classroom experience by providing kids with the chance to see, feel, touch and make connections with the animal world. When teachers begin to incorporate a classroom pet into their lesson plans, students often gain enthusiasm for what might otherwise be uninteresting to them. Teachers even report improvement in school attendance as kids strive for the privilege of being the class pet caretaker.
What was unclear until now is whether exposure to a classroom pet meant that kids were more likely to want a pet at home. Could classroom pets drive interest in families acquiring fish, small animals, birds and reptiles that had seen sales stagnation or decline in recent years?
The answer is an emphatic “Yes,” according to a new study released by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). The National Pet Market Opportunity Study released this April confirms that classroom pets have a positive influence on children’s attitude toward pets. More importantly, one-third of the survey respondents said “having a pet in their child’s class led their family to get a pet.”
Three quarters of survey respondents whose child has a pet in their classroom responded that its presence had a positive effect on their pet ownership. Children exposed to a classroom pet were more likely to get over a fear of pets they may have harbored. They were also more likely to take responsibility for household pets as a result of the classroom experience.
Science teacher Kristin Shanley of the Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis, Minn., knows first-hand the impact that her classroom pets—two guinea pigs, Cuddles and Bubbles—have had on her students. “All of the students want to pet, hold, feed and observe the guinea pigs, so we have to take turns,” says Shanley. “It’s been incredible to watch them learn responsibility and compassion, and to observe the thriving atmosphere of a safe, warm and inviting classroom due to these two little pets.”
Linda Graham teaches a fourth-grade class of boys at the Global Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She received a Pets in the Classroom grant for Carl, the bearded dragon. “Since Carl came into the classroom, he has helped create a more gentle and compassionate environment,” says Graham. “Each and every day, I observe my students taking such good care and showing responsibility toward this shared creature. They are all eager to feed him, bathe him or just to hold him.”
400,000 New Pet-Owning Households
Nearly 17,000 Pets in the Classroom grants have been awarded in the current school year, bringing the total number of grants close to 40,000 since the program began. To date, approximately 64 percent of the grants have been redeemed by teachers for pets and products needed to house and care for the animals. That means that 25,600 classrooms have a pet thanks to Pets in the Classroom. And with an average of 50 students passing through these classrooms daily—multiple classes pass through middle school classrooms each day—1.28 million kids have daily contact with a pet in their schools.
Which brings us back to the APPA survey results. One-third of the survey respondents said that having a pet in their child’s class led their family to get a pet. If one-third of the 1.28 million students impacted by a Pets in the Classroom grant get a pet at home, the program is responsible for 422,000 new pets in households since 2011. Millions of dollars have been spent by families in neighborhood pet stores buying fish, turtles, guinea pigs, hamsters, lizards and birds, along with the aquariums, habitats, cages and all the ancillary products needed to care for these new members of the household. Return visits to buy food, bedding and companions for their pets inject millions more into the retail pet economy.
What You Can Do
The Pet Care Trust relies on donations from companies and individuals to sustain our mission of bringing pets to 100,000 classrooms and five million children. You can make a tax-deductible contribution of any size at petsintheclassroom.org. Tell the teachers in your community about the program and how they can participate.
Classroom pets are good for kids, good for teachers and good for the pet industry. Let’s do good together!
Steve King is executive director of the Pet Care Trust and president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association.