Pets take a seat in Dubai classrooms to aid teaching

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[Bringing animals into the classroom not only enriches the learning environment but also encourages student development.]

Students at the Dubai British School Jumeirah Park see falcons, dogs, cats, fish, rabbits visiting them quite often.

Guide dogs for the blind, a house full of cats to fight loneliness or keep company, a child’s first pet tortoise – animals have always assisted humans in various ways. Their kindness doesn’t end there, they are now helping Dubai students inside classrooms with their social skills, behaviour and with the subject of science.

Two schools in Dubai told Khaleej Times that they bring in all sorts of animals inside classrooms to help students learn skills that a feline or the “man’s best friend” can do better than a human.

[The adopted street cat became a topic of study for students at the Dubai British School.]
Students at the Dubai British School Jumeirah Park see falcons, dogs, cats, fish, rabbits visiting them quite often. “Animals are brought into school as part of the planned curriculum – usually linked to science. We use a thematic approach, so to bring some of the learning to life and to provide real learning, we invite animals and their owners for a visit,” said Heather Mann, principal of the school.

“In addition to the academic benefits of learning about real animals in science, animals can support the development of personal and social skills, positive values such as empathy, respect, responsibility, caring, curiosity and appreciation. We have also recently introduced the Reading Dog programme to provide children a real purpose for reading and development of literacy skills.”

Students must develop a caring, responsible and respectful attitude towards animals, especially those who do not have pets at home, according to Mann.

She said that “many children are fearful of all animals”, so the school tries to provide a connection and a “deeper understanding” between the student and animal. “This brings a greater awareness of the needs of others, supports the development of positive relationships and develops increased sensitivity such as the need to be gentle,” Mann said.

Students at the GEMS FirstPoint School also welcome animals as guests into their classrooms. Students have their own Desert School Programme, which currently includes a tortoise, corn snake, fish, terrapins and a mountain horned lizard.

“Bringing animals into the classroom not only enriches the learning environment but also encourages student development in a number of ways,” said Zoe Downes, the elementary teacher at the school. “They encourage social development, especially with children who have social difficulties and  also English-language learners.

“Learning how to care for animals instils a sense of responsibility and allows children to directly learn how their actions can affect others. We are currently working with our special education needs department and allowing children with various sensory difficulties to use the room and work in a calm environment.”

Downes said animals can enrich learning in a number of ways and in different subjects, for example in maths. Students can learn how much a tortoise weighs, how long it is and link it to estimation and recording.

In geography, which country does the lizard come from can arouse the curiosity of the child. They can use different forms of media to research on animals and their habitats. “Science lessons can be enhanced in a number of ways. Being exposed to animals gives children a wider knowledge about animal kingdom – to see, feel, and touch them as opposed to just looking at pictures and videos,” she said. “Students are given the opportunity to observe these animals and the changes that they undertake over periods of time.”

How animals can help students?

> Dogs help shy students read without fear, which helps develop their confidence

> Students can research which country the animal hails from, improving their knowledge in geography

> Animals can be weighed and measured by students, helping them enhance their skills in mathematics

> Teach students how to be more compassionate and gentle

> Help developing positive relationships

A cat named JP that intrigued Dubai school

Most animals may just be temporary guests to schools, but one institution has “adopted” a street cat, named JP. Students at the Dubai British School Jumeirah Park (DBSJP) have grown fond of JP, who shows up at the school early morning and leaves late afternoon everyday.

However, JP does not just sit around, napping, inside the school. The cat was, in fact, the centre of a crime scene investigation. Students from year one to eight took part in the investigation after they discovered someone had deleted the house points from the school computer.

After seeing the broken vase in the same room and footprints of paws, they started to suspect that the culprit couldn’t be a human. “Each Grade carried out a particular aspect of the investigation which involved collecting irrefutable scientific wevidence to eliminate suspects and finally, find out what had happened at DBSJP,” the principal at the school, Heather Mann, said. “Parents were invited to help solve the mystery and even had their own poll of who they believed to be guilty.

“A confession was received from one of the suspects, but the scientific evidence proved that it could not have been this person.

“All suspects were lined up and one by one they were eliminated based on the evidence collected. Further investigation revealed the culprit and was announced at the end of the week assembly. It was JP, the school cat.”

The principal added: “He had been chasing a fly and had jumped onto the computer thus wiping the system of all the points.

“His footprints, fur and blood were all discovered at the scene. He had cut his paw as he knocked over a vase running from the building.”

JP wasn’t really punished heavily for his actions, but he did “apologise”. Later, he took a “comfortable” nap at the principal’s office for the rest of the afternoon that day.

Kids develop positive attributes when they interact with pets

(Dr Sarah Elliot, Owner of British Veterinary Hospital and a veterinary surgeon)

In addition to companionship, pets can provide owners with numerous other health benefits, both psychological and physical. The following are some of the benefits of owning a pet.

Children find support and security from their animal companion, which often means they are less anxious or withdrawn. A recent study shows that pet owners are 40 per cent more likely to be extroverted as they receive comfort and companionship.

In addition to being better in social situations they also learn to help others, cooperate, share and interact more effectively later in life. Connecting with a pet bolsters their ability to connect with people.

Nurturing a pet is an acceptable way for boys and girls to replicate being a parent in order to practise being caregivers and feeding and caring for a pet encourages childhood responsibility. Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a pet can elevate mood-boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine.

What’s more, contact with animals can immediately increase levels of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that lights up the brain’s pleasure centers. Kids with pets go outside more, for walks, and enjoy all the associated health benefits while playing with their furry friend.

The love and care of a family pet forges an additional common bond among siblings, helping children to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation and keeps depression at bay. However, losing a pet can also be beneficial to kids as it teaches them to deal with loss and other challenges in life.

Families that have pets tend to have fewer doctor’s visits as dogs and other animals can help children avoid a variety of sicknesses such as developing common allergies and asthma.

Pets are actually known to make babies healthier as they bring in more dirt from outside to stimulate the infants immune system.

Previous studies have shown that pets help children with autism demonstrate stronger social skills, especially if these animals are dogs. Children who regularly interact with dogs are better at introducing themselves to others and responding to social prompts.

Pets have also been shown to boost compassion, self-esteem, and reduce stress in kids. Animals have been seen as a form of therapy in schools, using them to help developmentally challenged kids to learn.

Schools in the UAE participated in Reading Dogs sessions and students who were reluctant to read out loud at school felt more confident reading to animals as they see them as a non-judgmental pal with paws.

Overall, children seem to benefit in a holistic manner and develop positive attributes that help them become contributing members of society.

How can pets contribute to classrooms?

Sarah Ronad, JSS International School, Dubai

Pets in classrooms improve learning as it would help students break from the monotony of being with books all the time. Not all children enjoy playing during breaks. So it would be a good option for those who are not the athletic type. Besides, kids can be taught to be responsible by taking care of the pet and it’s living area.

Saakshi Joshi, Delhi Private School, Sharjah

Animals in the classroom can act as a distraction from the content being taught. If an animal were to be brought into the classroom, its needs have  to be catered to. Students as well as teachers could not keep themselves from looking at it or petting it because animals are cute.

Suleiman Altaf, Ibn Seena English High School, Sharjah

Caring for animals in classrooms can inculcate a sense of responsibility and attentiveness. Pupils can learn the importance of all animals and their needs. With the presence of pets, studies can be made more enthusiastic and interesting. An awareness can be raised for pets and for the things needed for survival other than just food and water.

Dhanvi Sayani, Gems Our Own English High School, Dubai

Class pets can provide students with hands-on learning. Learning how to care for something else is one of the best lessons that we can learn during our formative years. While class pets can be a great aid for learning, we also need to develop good attention and focusing skills from the early years of our childhood. Pets can provide too much stimulation while studying.

Source: Khaleej Times