What Animals Teach Children
Today we said goodbye to our class fish, Squeaky. The kids have noticed the Squeaky has not been himself lately. Every time he ate, he floated to the top of the fish tank and they called it "playing dead." The kids thought it was really funny and cool that our class fish could do tricks, but we told them the fish was getting sick and even though it seems funny, fish aren't supposed to do that. So we had the talk about animals getting sick and dying, and then they suggested we get a new class pet, "how about we get a dog??" This is a tricky time, we caught a Vole on Friday, then released it that night, our fish died on Wednesday. And we have actually had a lot of our class's personal pets die recently. Talking about the death of an animal is important, but can be heavy stuff in preschool. So to compromise and feel a little better, we decided to bring in a class pet Duke for the day.
When Duke first came in, there was potential for craziness. So I reminded them that Duke is a baby puppy and we need to have soft touches, walking feet and a safe space for him. This required lots and lots and lots of self-regulation. They were SO excited. But they were able to be aware of themselves, slow down their body and control their impulses. This is something I've been trying to help with in SO many ways, who knew that it could be learned and practiced so easily by just bringing a pup into school.
It wasn't until Duke was in our classroom, playing with the children that I learned just how much a class pet (that can interact with them) will teach them. This is the same for how a pet at home, can help the children learn so many things. The first thing that they wanted to do was build a doghouse for him. STEAM, check. They engineered and planned out this huge doghouse, with a door, a slide, a playground and it took balancing, planning, teamwork and patience. It especially involved patience when Duke wanted nothing do with it. Sometimes "others" want to do things different from what we want them to do, and that's okay! Social-emotional development. The children are working on this developmental step anyway, and today, the thought of ways that they could get Duke in the doghouse, that would also make him want to be in the doghouse. Compromise, Negotiation...bribery. They put a treat inside and lured him in.
Duke stood up on two paws to look out the window. These goofy kids were able to become one with the dog, and act like him wagging his tail in the window. sociodramatic play, check.
They don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Relationships are HALF the curriculum. The faces were just like this. It's amazing. Not to mention, I learned so much more about the kids. Some of the kids who I have asked home questions about, and tried to find ways to get through to... they have NEVER opened up to me more, then when we were sitting side-by-side petting the dog. It was a ground breaking moment in several relationships. Everyone will talk to their teacher when she's sharing her cute puppy.
Respect & reading emotional cues. Having such a good dog, the children could really do anything and he wouldn't bite or become aggressive. But he does have body language that shows he doesn't like certain things. Reading these emotional cues translates to the respect & awareness they have with friends too.
Duke was brought into several areas of the classroom. We are writing a class book and each child is choosing what they hope there will always be. "May there always be Duke." Duke was little reggio art provocation himself, just sitting there by the art table. She looked at him as he laid on the floor and drew each detail of his body. art, literacy.
Responsibility. Taking the dog out to use the bathroom. Walking the dog and holding tight to the leash. Turn-taking, delayed gratification. They used some serious impulse control and self-regulation to not only wait, but to pass on the leash to a friend. There was no timer, just the prompt to ask if it could be there turn. With some hesitation, they gave the leash and dog to their friends. It was a powerful sharing moment because it was something they wanted so badly.
Self-regulation. They really had to use self-regulation to not smother the tiny thing. They used soft touches and gave him safe space.