Over the last few months, we have had a few furry friends stay with us in Early Years - guinea pigs, Luna (grey) and Kiki (brown). The children and staff have loved getting to know and playing with the little fellows. The pigs take turns visiting the different age groups, from Under 2s to Pre-Prep; the children can have them on their knees, stroke them, and brush them. They feed them their favourite food, which is spinach, kale or cucumber.
As well as the enjoyment of having a class pet, animals can provide many important benefits to a child’s development.
School pets may:
- Stimulate children to think and to learn, as they have a high level of natural interest in, enthusiasm for, and enjoyment of animals.
- Encourage a respect and reverence for life in children, and thereby improve their relationships with their peers, parents and teachers.
- Foster a sense of responsibility in children.
- Improve academic achievement.
Moreover, the benefits of school pets are far reaching and can be broken down into the following development aspects:
- Cognitive development – companionship with a pet stimulates memory, problem solving and game-playing, and can improve reading skills.
- Emotional development – a school pet improves self-esteem, acceptance from others and lifts mood, often provoking laughter and fun. Animals can also teach compassion and gives relief from anxiety.
- Physical development – interaction with a pet reduces blood pressure, provides tactile stimulation, assists with pain management, gives motivation to move and walk, and stimulates the senses.
- Environmental benefits – a pet in a school contributes towards the creation of a home-style environment, with all of the above benefits continuing long after the school day is over.
- Social benefits – a school pet provides a positive mutual topic for discussion, encourages responsibility and wellbeing, and develops social skills and focused interaction with others.
Pets in school also have social benefits for the school community:
- They enhance the learning environment, creating a sense of security and family warmth for the children.
- They encourage the involvement of parents and the wider community in school activities.
- They help to promote the school as an important nurturing influence in the community.
- Children naturally identify with animals; we use the children’s interactions with animals to teach them how to respect each other and how to show empathy.
- Teaching children to respect and protect even the smallest animal is vital to ensure that we support the development of adults who will continue to show a respect for protecting our environment, animals and plants for generations to come.
- A child’s attitude toward animals can predict future behaviour; we will teach kindness and empathy towards animals which will foster a positive attitude and in turn will reduce the likelihood of anti-social behaviour.
We in Early Years have thoroughly enjoyed welcoming Luna and Kiki into our Birkenhead School family and they are greatly loved by all our children.