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Animals in Classrooms






Animals in Classrooms



Reptiles in Tanks

Fish in Tanks

Birds in Cages

Small Mammals in Cages


Some schools promote having animals in the classroom as a way for students to gain knowledge of different species by observing them, and to learn responsibility by caring for them. It can come as an unfortunate surprise when the lessons learned turn out to be the opposite of what teachers intended.


On weekends, holidays, and summer vacations, classroom animals are sometimes left without food, water, and companionship, teaching insensitivity and lack of respect. If permitting students to take animals home with them at these times seems an option, think again. Animals, like people, need a permanent, secure home where proper care is assured. The stress of being transported from place to place can overwhelm them, and the consequences can be severe.


A mishandled, teased, or ill animal can bite. An animal housed in a small cage or a lonesome and bored animal can become depressed and even die. Housing animals together so they can have social interaction means more work and cost. If unaltered animals of the opposite sex are housed together, breeding is inevitable and the lesson taught is not responsibility, but the lack of it.


Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering keeping an animal or animals in a classroom:

  • Who will pay for regular and emergency veterinary care?

  • How will you deal with your students' grief and your and their guilt if the animal is accidentally or intentionally injured or killed?

  • What will you do when:

  • The novelty of caring for them wears off?

  • You discover that one or more students are already, or become, allergic to the animal?

  • The animals become noisy or disruptive?

Disposing of animals when they become inconvenient teaches your students that their life has no value.


Caring for an animal is an ongoing and time-consuming process that can be at cross purposes to, rather than an enhancement to, classroom learning. There are alternatives:

  • Students' natural interest in animals can be fostered by showing them videos about animals in their natural habitat, the dangers they face, and what we can do to help.

  • Representatives of an SPCA or a wildlife rehabilitation organization can be invited to speak to the class.

  • If possible, the class can go on a fieldtrip to a wildlife rehabilitation center or to an animal sanctuary.

  • A classroom discussion can explore the vast amount of new information scientists are discovering about animal communication, or about whether we have the right to remove animals from their natural habitat and keep them in cages until they die to satisfy our curiosity. Shouldn't a fish be able to swim freely, a bird to fly, a snake to feel the earth on its belly as it slithers across the field? What about hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and rabbits — should they really be forced to spend their lives in captivity?

Consider which of the following examples is more educational:

  • Listening to specialists who work with animals they understand thoroughly and whose emotional as well as physical needs they attend to on a daily basis?

  • Occasionally glancing at a lonely, bored animal who has been taken from his or her family group and natural habitat, and who sits languishing in a cage in the corner of the room?

You teach best what you model. When you model humaneness, respect and responsibility for all living beings, that's what your students will learn.