Wow! Classroom pets help kids learn in many ways, according to a new study

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Remember the lines from the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” about the lamb making the children laugh and play, so the teacher turned it out?

Well, maybe a lamb isn’t a great idea, but small classroom pets may actually help improve academic performance and social skills in children, according to a new study, which has been published online.

The study, “Measuring the Social, Behavioral, and Academic Effects of Classroom Pets on Third and Fourth-Grade Students” looked at the impact of small,classroom animals impact on 591 students across the U.S. during the 2016-17 school year.

Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), The Pet Care Trust, and American Humane announced the online publication of the study.

“Findings show that the presence of pets in the classroom may increase social skills and competence for children in the third and fourth grades and, additionally, be effective in decreasing select problem behaviors in the classroom,” said Amy McCullough, PhD, Principal Investigator and Senior Research Advisor, American Humane.

Across the school year, teachers with classroom pets, which ranged from guinea pigs to small reptiles, saw significantly greater increases in communication, cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, engagement and self-control.

Also seen were improvements in social competence and reading skills.

Teachers reported significantly greater decreases in withdrawal, hyperactivity and inattention among their students, as compared to teachers in the control condition, without classroom pets.

Parents indicated they saw significantly greater increases in pro-social behaviors among their children compared to parents with children in classrooms without pets.

How the research was conducted:

American Humane’s research team recruited a total of 41 classrooms across 19 schools to take part in the study. 20 participating classrooms had a pet.

Teachers, students, and parents were asked to complete survey instruments at three designated time points over the course of the study period.

Teachers used their classroom pets for a variety of purposes, such as a reward for improved behavior/academics, and to help calm/relax students in stressful situations. A little over half of the teachers taught formal lessons that focused on or utilized the pet, teaching about responsibility, animal care and welfare.

More about the Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom Program:

“The Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom Program, a grant program which offers funding to teachers to purchase and maintain classroom pets, provides children with an opportunity to interact with pets on a daily basis – an experience that can help shape their lives for years to come,” said Jackie King, Executive Director, The Pet Care Trust. “While teachers have shared with us story after story about how their classroom pets have helped shy kids open up, struggling readers build confidence, aggressive children develop nurturing tendencies, and apathetic students gain a new desire for learning, this newly published research helps validate our program’s positive impact, and bring us closer to our goal of helping 10 million students build self-esteem, learn important life skills, and have a positive experience in the classroom with the help of a pet.”

For more information about the program, go to:

About HABRI:
HABRI is a not-for-profit organization that maintains an online library of human-animal bond research and information; funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals; and informs the public about human-animal bond research and the beneficial role of companion animals in society.

For more information, visit

About American Humane:
American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization, founded in 1877. It is committed to ensuring the safety, welfare and well-being of animals. Our leadership programs are First to Serve® in promoting and nurturing the bonds between animals and people.

For more information, please visit


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