In our classroom we have a zoo. We have an African millipede, salamanders (sorry these cuties will dearly missed) fish, a guinea pig (minus 0ne, plus, a new guinea…we’ll miss you Turkey….welcome MiniMoe), and stick bugs. For about a month we had an ant farm, but our beloved colony rapidly demised. (Can’t always rely on shipping services to get your ants to school safely.) All right, there is some real life costs in raising animals in the classroom as the parallels of life and death become more transparent, but the sense of care, nurturing, and life lessons in mortality can instill much value to kids.
Lately we have had kids coming in with their new pets. It definitely puts a whole new perspective on our traditional morning meeting, but we are certainly willing to take the diversion from the routine. But the energy can become an animalistic frenzy. The younger class at the school has two bunnies in their class, “cuddles and “bun-bun.” (I know, not to original, but certainly adorable.) They have been inside during the winter months do to freezing temperatures during some evenings. They have become like school mascots as the teacher often lets them romp around in the classroom. The kids in her class don’t bother much with them anymore because the bunnies, hopping by have almost become a regular part of the day. However when we introduced the bunnies to our class the game of “chasing bunnies,” began. Constant requests by the teachers to “stay put as they will come to you,” feel on deaf ears. The excitement within the room certainly elevated, but this was a phenomenon worth jumping to. They wanted to build bunny walls for them to leap over and find clever ways to corner the bunny for a closer look.
With the guinea pigs in our class, kids often like to pretend to perform surgery, while miraculously nursing them back to better health. As adults we need to be vigilant because these dramatic times can inadvertently be invasive to the well-being of the animal. But ordinarily they want to lay down towels on the table, put on gloves, use magnify glasses to hone in, or pretend that a container provides medicine. The kids play operation as if it is a veterinarian hospital, with an animal in critical condition. Their imaginary operations can be annoying (especially for the animal) because often the animal can be marginally mistreated. And one hard direct consequence this school year, resulted in a bit finger (nothing major here, just a prick of blood).
Animals in the classroom or in a child’s life do provide a sense of nurturing and responsibility. As all our pets need water, food, and nurturing. Each week a student is assigned a duty to take care of these of providing water and food to the animals. Surely, they need prompting in order to remember but they’re usually thrilled to take care of the animals. The subtle responsibilities of kids taking care of animals, offers moments for identifying and relating to the nurturing qualities of healthy human development. Young people begin to grow and realize the impacts of how the animal becomes dependent on this nurturing care for their own survival. Even when animal dies, the intimacy of connecting is a lost, while this pine time can strengthen a child’s perception of how valuable and precious live can really be.