Many homeschoolers long for a pet, but what can they learn from the experience of owning one?
By: Guest Author
Homeschoolers often love animals, and kids begging for a pet has become a staple and cliché of modern media. This makes sense when you consider what a strong bond kids often form with their pets, and how valuable owning a pet can be as a formative experience for children. Of course, there are always potential pitfalls, particularly around choosing the right pet that a child is ready to take care of and excited about owning. But whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, lizard, snake, turtle, frog, or fish, a child’s first pet has a lot to teach them about themselves and the world around them.
How do pets teach responsibility? Responsibility is probably the first “life lesson” people think of teaching when they consider getting their homeschoolers a pet, which makes sense. The most important thing to consider when taking in a new animal is how to take care of it, and for many homeschoolers, taking care of a pet is their first major brush with external responsibility – that is, responsibility to another creature, rather than responsibilities like brushing their teeth and doing their homework, which is mostly a benefit to themselves. With an animal, kids can see the effects of their actions on another creature – a dog distressed at not being taken out, fish growing lethargic and ill when their tank isn’t cleaned. These natural consequences are often the best way for a child to learn to take responsibility and keep the commitments they made to their animals.
Empathy is a word that gets tossed around a lot, especially in relation to children, but essentially what it means is the ability to understand the emotions of another person or animal without directly experiencing them. This isn’t a natural skill, but it isn’t something that can be taught in a traditional sense, either. Kids under the age of six simply don’t have the necessary brain structures and capacity to understand empathy, and even once they begin to develop them, they still need guidance to develop a full and healthy sense of other people’s feelings. This is where the pets come in, as young kids can empathize more easily with the more simplistic emotions of an animal. Empathizing with their pet like this will function as weightlifting for their emotional intelligence and empathic capacity, helping them strengthen these impulses and apply their newly developed sense of other people’s emotions to real-life situations.
Safety & Hygiene
It will come as no surprise to parents of young kids to hear that they often struggle with hygiene and proper washing. Pets, especially tank or terrarium pets, can help homeschoolers learn these lessons and develop a sense of pride in maintaining their personal cleanliness and clean space. It quickly becomes obvious when a lizard’s terrarium or a fish tank isn’t being properly cleaned, and this can have disastrous consequences for the animals inside. Depending on their age, kids shouldn’t necessarily be left solely in charge of cleaning a tank, but having them participate in regular cleanings from a young age will help them understand the importance of sanitary hygiene for both people and animals. Keeping any pet can also help teach your homeschoolers how proper hygiene can help keep people safe and prevent the spread of disease. It can be easier to understand how germs or disease can come from an obvious “other,” like a dog or turtle, than from something more familiar, like toys, friends, or even their own fingers.
Biology & Life Science
Of course, in addition to the more abstract lessons about life, keeping an animal also has a lot to teach homeschoolers in terms of more concrete information about science.What can you learn from animals? A chicken coop can be an introduction to reproduction and the basics of the life cycle, as well as the idea of food production and a sense of where food comes from. Keeping a fish tank is an opportunity to observe the interconnectedness of an ecosystem and the way all the organisms interact. Freshwater fish in particular have a wonderful ecosystem.
A bearded dragon or other lizard can be an object lesson in evolutionary adaptations to the environment. Cats and dogs can be a way to learn about selective breeding and domestication. For anyone interested in expanding their child’s science education and encouraging a sense of wonder at the variety in the world, owning an animal offers any number of opportunities to do so.
Owning a pet is often a formative experience in a child’s life, and it’s one with a lot of lessons to teach. From concrete lessons in hygiene and the life sciences, to opportunities to develop abstract skills like responsibility and empathy, to first hard experiences with grief, pets have a wide variety of wonderful lessons to offer our kids and even ourselves.
About The Author:
David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.