Teachers sometimes like to enrich the classroom environment by having a classroom pet. In some situations, this works very well and children learn much that will make them better people. In other situations, having a classroom pet is a disaster for the teacher, the students, and especially for the animal. This article sets forth the pros and cons of animals in the classroom.
The Good Classroom Situation
The primary purpose of the classroom is to enhance learning. Children will always learn something from having an animal in the classroom. The question the teacher must address is what they want their students to learn, and whether they can make having an animal in the classroom a positive learning experience. This requires the teacher (perhaps with the class participating) to:
- Learn about the animal and his or her needs before getting him or her.
- Determine whether a particular kind of animal will be happy in the classroom environment.
- Provide for the regular care of the animal.
- Provide the animal an annual check up with a veterinarian (the teacher might arrange for the students to visit the veterinarian while this is done).
- Understand and be able to recognize symptoms of illness in the animal.
- Provide veterinary care for the animal if s/he becomes ill (are funds available for this?)
- Have a single person/family responsible for the animal throughout his or her life (this is likely to be the teacher).
Approaching the question of animals in the classroom in this manner teaches children to treat all sentient creatures (including other humans) with respect. It teaches them at a deep level that sentient creatures are not toys that exist purely for the pleasure of the child, but that humans have a responsibility to an animal – to any life – that is dependent on them.
The Bad Classroom Situation
Unfortunately, animals are usually selected for the classroom in much the same manner toys or materials are selected. Some thought may be given to whether the children will find them enjoyable, but often little thought is given about the well being of the animal. As a result, children learn:
- People need not concern themselves about the well being of other sentient creatures (including humans), but only about their own desires.
- Caring for another life isn’t important. At the deepest level, this encourages an attitude that life is cheap (including human life).
- If the animal is discarded at the end of the year (given to anyone who will take him or her, or taken to an animal shelter), children learn that people need not be responsible for their choices.
- They learn to dump their responsibilities on others.
Rabbits as Classroom Pets
Rabbits are “crepuscular,” meaning they are most active in nature during dawn and dusk. Domesticated, they are most active at breakfast-time and in the evening. Their deepest sleep occurs in the afternoon. This schedule may be ideal for many families, but obviously doesn’t fit well in the classroom schedule. Not only do they need sleep when the class is likely to want to play with them, but the class has gone home when the rabbits want to be out playing and relating to people. Rabbits should never be left in the classroom overnight, miserable in their loneliness, when they most want to be out running and relating to people.
Some children may be allergic to rabbits or to their primary food, hay. If a child is allergic to the classroom rabbits, will you take them home for the year or dump them at a shelter (where they are likely to be killed)? Will you show your students that you have a responsibility to the animal you brought into the classroom, or teach them that you consider it appropriate to dump your responsibilities onto others?
Rabbits must be neutered or spayed to avoid serious illness, unpleasant behavior, and, babies. Thousands of rabbits are euthanized in shelters every year! NEVER bring more bunnies into the world,until all of those whose lives are in danger have homes. An interesting math lesson involves calculating how many rabbits can be born in a year if a pair has six babies per litter (actually smaller than usual), gives birth once a month, and the babies pair up and begin having babies of their own at 4 months of age.
Rabbits have a variety of special needs.
- Hay and water should always be available for rabbits. They should have fresh vegetables every day.
- Pellets are good for rabbits only when they are young and growing. In adulthood, pellets can cause serious health problems.
- In nature, rabbits bond for life. Without a mate, they are very lonely. They should always be neutered or spayed and paired with a compatible altered rabbit.
Because rabbits stress easily, they are utterly inappropriate for young children who tend to be noisy with fast, jerky movements which frighten most rabbits. Rabbits are delicate animals, easily injured if not properly picked up. Children under eight years of age should never attempt to pick up a rabbit. Children over eight years of age should attempt it only if they have been taught how to do it properly. Rabbits can bite and scratch, inflicting serious wounds. They are likely to do this when frightened or when they believe they are in danger. A child who corners a rabbit or tries to pick one up without doing it properly may suffer such a wound.
Rabbits bond to one person or family, and are badly stressed by changes. Being prey animals, rabbits instinctively hide symptoms of illness which can result in rapid death if missed. Because of both these circumstances, rabbits should never be sent home with different people over weekends and holidays, but always be with their own people. Rabbit caretakers must be aware of rabbit personality, characteristics, needs, and the symptoms of ill health in their rabbit. The best situation for rabbits in the classroom is when they belong to a teacher who takes full responsibility for them for life, takes them home every day, or brings them to school only on occasion.