Have you ever noticed that many preschool and kindergarten classrooms have a pet? It might be a simple as a hermit crab or fish or as elaborate as a guinea pig or rabbit. No matter the size or species of the animal, the process of caring for it is filled with enormous opportunities for learning. Young children learn science, math, literacy, and social/ethical skills through the many different ways they interact with the class pet.
- Animals Are Science
Children are using science skills as they observe a hermit crab and notice how and when it moves, what it eats, where it sleeps. A class might draw pictures to record their observations...just like real scientists!
- Animals Build Math Skills
Since hermit crabs live in shells, the teacher might bring in a variety of shells for children to sort, classify, and even graph by size, color, or shape. These math skills are essential to your child's understanding of numbers.
- Animals Build Literacy Skills
Combine children's natural fascinations with animals and their beginning reading and writing skills and you have a recipe for success. Children love to hear stories about animals, look at pictorial science books and "write" or draw their own stories about their new friend.
- Animals Build Social/Ethical Skills
Perhaps most of all, animals teach children about caring and responsibility. Taking care of something smaller than themselves builds important character skills. As you well know, your young child is naturally in a me-centered stage of development. The process of seeing to the needs of something less capable helps your child understand the importance of being responsible and empathetic.
- You Can Do It Too!
You don't have to get a dog or cat for your child to experience these important animal care skills. Consider something simple like a goldfish, a hermit crab, or a mouse. Size does not matter — it is the process of caretaking that does.
- Go to the library and get books about pets.
- Have a family discussion about the kind of pet to choose and its needs.
- Purchase a pet at a responsible pet store, or adopt one from a shelter.
- Do research on the Internet and at the library for photos of your pet and more information on its needs.
- Set up a schedule on the refrigerator for feeding, watering, and cleaning.
- Encourage your child to draw pictures of your pet periodically to chronicle its growth and change.
- If you can't have a pet, visit a nature center or zoo regularly to create a relationship with a particular type of animal.