Can animals bring lessons to life?

New book explores impact of animals in the classroom

Human Animal Interaction

Many teachers keep animals in their classrooms, either as pets or as part of a teaching programme. To date, however, there has been little evidence to demonstrate that interaction with these animals actually helps students learn. Given that the welfare of both animals and children should be paramount, measuring the educational effectiveness of this approach is important. But a comprehensive assessment of learning outcomes from animal interaction remains elusive.

To address the issue, experts in education, therapy and psychology got together in 2015. Their discussions formed the basis of a new book ‘How Animals Help Students Learn’. Edited by Nancy Gee, WALTHAM HAI research manager, Aubrey Fine (California State Polytechnic University) and Peggy McCardle (Peggy McCardle Consulting) the book provides a ‘map and compass’ for Human-Animal Interaction and Education researchers. It is intended to guide them through implementing and assessing educational programs that include children.

“Animals play a variety of roles for children, and they are often brought into schools to enrich the environment and facilitate learning. This book represents for the first time, rigorous assessments of the value of animal interventions in school settings and shows how the carefully planned inclusion of animals can facilitate learning” says Professor Alan Beck, Purdue University.

The book provides concrete examples of how animals have been successfully incorporated into classroom settings. Different types of research are discussed which outline methods to achieve the strongest benefit, whilst ensuring the health and welfare of students and animals.

“This is a much-needed resource for mental health and education professionals interested in incorporating animals in school-based environments” says Nancy Gee. “It summarizes the existing evidence and provides guidance for future researchers. Most importantly, it stresses that human and animal health and well-being should be central in efforts exploring psychological and biological phenomena of positive learning”.