Posted in Education, Teaching

The Calming Power of Animals

When my son was younger, I noticed that whenever he played with our dogs or snuggled up to them on the couch, his anxiety level decreased dramatically.  Petting or rubbing our dogs was almost soothing to him.  Even now as a teenager, he loves cuddling with our dog Beckett.  It’s comforting to him.  Research studies have proved that animals and pets can help people heal, better deal with emotional problems, and feel less anxious and nervous.  Dogs are used to address PTSD in soldiers returning from conflict.  Dogs, cats, and many other types of animals have soothing and healing properties in the way they interact with humans.  It’s amazing really.

My co-teacher and I had a chance to witness this phenomena on a larger scale today when our class went to the farm for our weekly Farm Fun Friday visit.  The first part of our visit focused on the baby bunnies.  The boys were able to choose their own bunny to name, observe, and take care of for the year on the farm.  They had so much fun interacting with their bunny.  Then we transitioned to the second part of our visit, which focused on crocheting.  Prior to switching activities, the younger bunnies needed to go back to their mothers, but the older, more mature bunnies could remain with the boys for the rest of our time on the farm.  I was a bit nervous that the bunnies would serve as a distraction for the students while they crocheted, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

As the students began crocheting, the bunnies sat in their laps or near them on the furniture.  The boys would pet the bunnies every once in awhile but remained focused on their crochet project throughout the activity.  Despite the level of difficulty crocheting provided many of our boys, they persevered throughout our time on the farm today.  They asked for help when needed but were able to solve most of their problems on their own or by asking a nearby peer who had figured out how to crochet already.  They spent almost a whole hour crocheting, which is no easy feat for sixth grade boys.  So, what was it that allowed this outcome?  How were the boys able to stay focused and on task for such a long period of time?  While crocheting is fun and can be engaging, it’s no video game or submarine building activity.  So, what was it then?

I believe that the boys remained as focused as they did regarding their crocheting today because of the soothing power of the bunnies.  Having the bunnies around with the boys provided them a security blanket of sorts.  The warmth of the bunnies near them helped to remind the boys that anything is possible.  During our last visit, when the students learned how to crochet for the first time, the bunnies were not out for the boys to play with, and chaos ensued quickly.  Several of the students were loud, disengaged, and grew frustrated quickly when they couldn’t do what was being asked of them.   They needed the soothing bunnies to help calm them.  Today while the students crocheted with the bunnies out and about, they were much quieter, more focused, and when they struggled, they asked for help kindly and respectfully.  They didn’t shout out and they were engaged in their crochet projects for almost an hour.  The only difference between our last visit and this visit was the fact that the bunnies were out for the boys to interact with this week.  My scientific inquiry skills tell me that this must be the reason for today’s result.  Animals help keep students calm, focused, and able to persevere in the face of adversity.  The angora bunnies helped keep our boys relaxed and able to crochet amazing chains of yarn.  Some of the boys worked on creating blankets for their bunnies.  It was so much fun to watch them work and snuggle with the bunnies.  It’s hard to believe how much having animals around our students positively impacted them today.  Much like my dog does for my son, the bunnies helped soothe our students today as they tackled the difficult task of crocheting.

So then, this result and data leads me to wonder how much of a difference having animals in the classroom might make.  Would having a class bunny or dog help our students to stay more focused and on task?  Would they be too distracted by the class animal or would it have a soothing effect like the bunnies did for our students today?   Could we have a class dog or bunny in the classroom?  Would it meet fire and safety codes?  I am now very curious and am going to look into the possibility of having an animal in the classroom.  I’m not talking about rodents or hamsters as I’ve tried them before and the results were very different.  I want an animal that could be out and about while the students worked, not cooped up in a cage.  I wonder what might be possible.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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