For August's Teacher Feature, we interviewed Amy Williams, the Enrichment Director for The Portland Montessori School.
The Portland Montessori School knows a thing or two about class pets. With over half a dozen class pets, ranging from birds to small animals, and even a dog, the students of Portland Montessori interact with animals on a daily basis.
These furry and feathered friends have a lot more to offer than one might think. While they are fun to play with and cute to look at, having pets in the classroom can provide excellent life lessons to children in their formative early years.
Amy Williams, Enrichment Director for the Portland Montessori School, is a big fan of class pets and the lessons they teach. She believes that these class pets help teach children responsibility, respect and consent, tolerance and understanding of differences, and the importance of community giving. They also can help children to focus their emotions and provide much needed stress relief.
Class pets: Daisy the Rabbit, Percy the Guinea Pig, Opal and Garnet the Zebra Finches, Graycloud and Hobbes the hamsters, Paris the dog.
The Portland Montessori School runs a summer program with an animal focus called "Fur, Fins & Feathers" that brings a different animal to the school each week, and the kids get to learn all about that animal. The children get to pet and play with the animals, and learn about their care, diet, and other interesting facts.
One particularly fun encounter was with a snake named Cupcake that was brought during the Fur, Fins & Feathers program. Cupcake was brought by Steve from Steve's Creature Feature.
The snakes handler would tell the kids that the snake was named Cupcake because he smells like cupcakes, and offer for them to smell him and see for themselves. The students would be excited to see if this was true, and eagerly put their faces right up to Cupcake to give him a sniff.
In the process, they would have to get up close to the snake, and their fears would melt away, and they would interact with the snake in a way they wouldn't have before.
A POB team member showing off a chocolate chip starfish.
The students at The Portland Montessori School also interact with their class dog, Paris, who has an inoperable growth on her side. The kids are taught that even though Paris might look a little bit different, she is happy and healthy, and just like any other dog.
Amy remarked that learning these things about their class pets are "sowing the seeds of tolerance and understanding, teaching the children not to fear people or things just because they appear different than they would have expected".
The school has even had a vet come to the classroom to teach about interacting with animals, and how to effectively communicate. The children would learn signs of stress or fear, and be taught to pay attention to how the animal would like to be handled or pet, and respecting their wishes.
Another way Amy feels the student benefit from their class pets is the therapeutic and calming nature of interacting with an animal. She could think of multiple instances of a child feeling angry, stressed, or overly active in the class room, and unable to focus on school.
These children would end up taking a walk, and always make their way to Daisy. When the child would hold him, their stress would slowly melt away as they brushed or pet the bunny. The children can't help but be soothed by interacting with "an animal that loves them so unconditionally, and asks nothing of them."
Daisy relaxing in the grass.
Portland Montessori's ideal classroom would have an animal of each type represented (mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian), from which the children can learn responsibility, differences between types of animals, and the ways that humans can help animals, while animals can help humans in return.
Are you a teacher looking to bring a pet into the classroom? Take a look at our article focusing on just that!