For many children, their first pet is a virtual one. Experts say many children who enter school can play video games but few have a pet to play with. And teachers say that’s a shame, considering how animals can enrich a child’s upbringing.
So for years, educators have paid out of their own pockets to provide pets for their classrooms. And in the past few years groups stepped in to help with the cost.
Two years ago, Pets in the Classroom, a Maryland-based project from the nonprofit foundation Pet Care Trust, began offering grants to U.S. and Canadian teachers in grades 1 through 8. The money can be used to buy starter pets, cages, food and other supplies. It issued its 10,000th grant this summer.
The $150 grants help offset the cost of the animal and its care, says foundation executive director Steve King, noting that an aquarium for a frog could cost more than $100. Teachers who apply for a second year or more get $50 for additional equipment, food and supplies.
Among applications for first-time grants, the most popular choices for classroom pets are small mammals, like hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and rabbits, King says. That’s followed by aquarium pets, reptiles, amphibians, and birds.
Classroom pets have been enlightening for some families. Heidi Keating says her 8-year-old son Wayne has been begging for a snake since he was introduced to one in his first-grade classroom in Minnesota.
“First, I say absolutely no. Then Wayne says, ‘Come see the snakes in class.’ Even Grandma came. We petted it. I never knew they were soft. I am a little more open at this point,” Keating says.
Classroom pets also can be incentives for good grades, as when some teachers allow students to care for the animals when school is out, King says.
As for the animals that don’t return for another school year, that’s a learning moment too, he says. “Lifespan is part of the life lesson that comes with having a classroom pet.”