You know the kid… the one who has his hoodie on and head down nearly all the time. Despite your best efforts and positive classroom environment, that kid is a hard nut to crack.
Then there’s the kid who can NOT stop. The kid who is just never where they are supposed to be.
And of course, the anxious kid – the kid that’s leaving to guidance and the bathroom constantly.
THESE ARE THE KIDS you need a classroom animal for.
A Mouse with a Heart
For me it started like this… In the Fall of 2020, we returned to school for the first time since the pandemic started. We were in masks, social distancing, spraying everything down, with no group work, no labs, etc. It sucked, to state it plainly. I had a renewed sense that I needed to make my classroom a place kids wanted to be.
And then, waiting in PetCo for my dog to be groomed, a little mouse stole my heart. (She literally had a grey heart on her back. Who doesn’t take that mouse home?!) I realized that a class pet would be a great way to make my classroom have a welcoming feel. “Sugar” came home with me that day and changed my classroom forever. I don’t say that flippantly – I really mean it. This spur-of-the-moment decision was truly one of the best things I have ever done for classroom culture.
Sugar Worked Her Magic
The kid hiding in the hoodie – my toughest connection to make – softened. This kid, who had been routinely suspended for violence, held Sugar so gently and lovingly. He was protective and took ownership over her care, worried about where she went over the weekend, and reminded me that she needed a food refill. I had never gotten two words out of that kid, but I made a genuine connection with him… over a mouse.
The kids that can NOT stop… stopped. I don’t know what type of sorcery Sugar used, but the driven-by-a-motor kids chilled out when they were holding her (or on their best behavior waiting for her). They focused better. They participated better. Maybe with a mouse sleeping up your sleeve or in your sweatshirt pocket, you have to be still!
My anxious kids had a reason to stay. These kids quietly cradled Sugar, who seemed to understand that they just needed a snuggle. And, knowing their turn with Sugar was coming up, they somehow didn’t need to visit the bathroom or guidance anymore.
It’s not new information that animals are calming, but it’s hard to explain to someone the intangible difference that an ounces-big mouse made in my classroom.
I’ll Always Have a Classroom Pet
My magical little Sugar passed away last summer, but her tiny little legacy lives on. I will always have a classroom pet. Today, we have Juniper, who also unexpectedly stole my heart in PetCo. She’s charcoal color with white socks on her paws and a chin that looks like she dipped it in milk. I don’t know what it is about mice, but Juniper has the same calming presence as Sugar did.
So what exactly does it take to have a class pet? Mouse supplies were cheap and easy – definitely under $30 for everything. I used a 10 gallon tank from the back of my science supply closet and then bought a mesh cover, a wheel, food bowl, bedding, and water bottle.
Routine care is pretty simple. Importantly, I do very little of it! Kids literally argue over who gets to clean her stinky cage! And, of course they all love to feed her. She stays at school over the weekends (even 3-day weekends) and I bring her home over breaks. (I haven’t yet let a student take her home because I am worried about the perception of unfairness of who I would choose/not choose to take her.)
Free Class Pets (Seriously)
You can get a classroom pet and their supplies for FREE by applying for a grant at www.PetsInTheClassroom.org. Don’t like mice? There’s other mammals, reptiles, fish, and amphibians available, too! The application is easy and shhhhh… it seems if you fit the simple criteria you have a great chance to get approved!
I hope you’ll consider adding a pet to your classroom!