How classroom pets liven up online learning

Pets can give students a sense of calm, both in-person and virtually
By: | June 23, 2020
When the coronavirus shut down schools, teachers brought rabbits, gerbils, fish, guinea pigs, beard dragons, hamsters, hermit crabs and other classroom pets home to join their online classes. When the coronavirus shut down schools, teachers brought rabbits, gerbils, fish, guinea pigs, beard dragons, hamsters, hermit crabs and other classroom pets home to join their online classes. 

Classroom pets serving as guest stars in online learning sessions this spring gave students separated from teachers and friends a social-emotional learning boost.

When the coronavirus shut down schools, teachers brought rabbits, gerbils, fish, guinea pigs, bearded dragons, hamsters, hermit crabs and other classroom pets home to join their online classes.

Teachers would read to their pets and let students write notes to the animals. Live streams allowed students to check on the critters throughout the day, says Jackie King, executive director of Pets in the Classroom, a nonprofit that give teachers grants to buy and care for pets.

“When pets are in classrooms, they help provide a happy and positive environment,” King says. “When it all became virtual, the pets gave students a sense of what they had in class. Pets bring calm and familiarity.”


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Some 97% of teachers said having a pet in the classroom had been a positive experience during the 2019-20 school year and 69% used the animals in online learning, according to a recent Pets in the Classroom survey.

Teachers with classroom pets reported additional benefits, such as:

  • 79% saw improvements in attendance
  • 98% said student empathy and compassion increased
  • 76% reported improvements in test/academic performance
  • 96% saw growth in students’ social skills
  • 98% found students were more engaged
  • 88% reported a decrease in disciplinary measures

Teachers often used pets to reward students for online participation during Zoom sessions and to facilitate discussions about students’ emotional states under stay-at-home orders, King says.

Pets in the Classroom partners with stores such as Petco to give teachers coupons to buy animals and then provides grants to buy food, bedding and other supplies. In the 2019-2020 school year, the organization gave out more than 27,000 grants, King says.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.


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