Pets in the preschool classroom
Caring for a small pet, such as a fish or reptile, can provide young children with the opportunity to learn more about animals firsthand. As preschool teachers, we know that young children are engaged and learn best by DOING. We can certainly teach about animals through books and pictures ... but how much MORE will they learn when they can actually interact with one. They can learn about caring for animals and the responsibility that goes with it. For preschool programs, having a classroom pet provides a wonderful opportunity for learning about nature, science and living things.
At our preschool (and at my home), we have Betta fish, which have a low start-up cost and are very easy to take care of. At the beginning of the school year, we have the class name the fish - and that really helps to give the children ownership of the pet. One of the most favorite classroom jobs a child can have for the day is the "Fish Helper" - where it is their day to feed the fish. The Betta fish food are really tiny pellets, so it's also a good fine motor skill for the children to pick up the pellets and put them into the tank.
I think children can learn a lot from seeing and interacting with living things. At various times during the year, we will also bring in special visitors who bring in some other animals that the children can learn about. During our summer camp, we even had some older children come in and share their pets with the preschoolers. This gave the children an opportunity to observe, touch and feel an animal they may not have seen before, or only seen in pictures.
I recently learned about a program to help teachers who want to bring in a pet into their classroom. PetSmart is now offering a “Pets in the Classroom” grant for Pre-K through 6th grade teachers to cover all the expenses of a classroom pet. Teachers will also receive additional assistance with a PetSmart associate who can help them with the basics of pet care.
Teachers can visit www.petsmart.com/teachers to apply for the grant and learn about ways to incorporate a classroom pet into their curriculum. This section of the website also provides teachers with some lesson plan ideas, some of which can be adapted to fit into a preschool curriculum.
Do you have a pet in your classroom? Other than fish and reptiles, what other types of pets would be good in a preschool classroom?