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A classroom pet doesn't have to be cuddly for children to form a bond with it and learn from it.
Jennifer Arnold, a teacher at Creekside Elementary School in Sonora, has a pet most people would like to stay away from. This is her first year bringing him to her preschool class but she has had Savannah, the tarantula, for four years.
The spider hangs out in the class science center where the children can see her and look at her closely with magnifying glasses. There is a book in the center about spiders they can look through while watching her.
Arnold told the students about her when she went on her home visits before the school year started. When they got to the classroom Savannah was the first thing they wanted to see.
“When we went out on the playground they found a grasshopper and wanted to feed it to the spider,” Arnold said. “Surprisingly, the children all loved her from the beginning; it is the other teachers that don’t care too much for her.”
The warmth towards the spider has amazed Arnold.
“They stick their faces right up to the glass of the cage to see her but get scared by little bugs on the playground,” Arnold said.
Arnold took the knob off the top of the cage so the children cannot open it and let her out themselves.
On the swampier side of things are a few turtles in area classrooms.
Amy Key teaches a fifth-grade class at Morningside Elementary School in Elizabethtown. Her class has three red-eared slider turtles. The children do not get to hold the turtles but love watching them swim. They also enjoy feeding them.
Squirt was the first to come to the classroom. His name is Squirt because he was about the size of a quarter. He has since grown to be three inches long.
Crush and Dory joined the class this year. Key’s 12-year-old son caught Squirt and Crush and a student brought ing Dory. The students voted to name her Dory to keep with a “Finding Nemo” theme. Squirt and Crush are also characters from that movie.
The turtles are mostly there to enhance the classroom environment, but the students learn a lot about them.
The students recognized the turtles are social animals observing that they often sit next to each other on their logs and sometimes the smallest turtle, Crush, will sit on top of Squirt’s shell.
“I think the turtles make neat classroom pets because they are fun to watch and are an animal that many of the students have not been exposed to before,” Key said. “Plus, they have a really long lifespan and can be around for several years.”
Whenever Key reads to the class, Squirt will get up on the log and watch her.
“He is used to my voice and it appears that he is listening to the book, too,” Key said.
Several of her students had things to say about the turtles, too.
“I like their personality, they seem friendly and easy-going,” Bryce Haynes said. Sam Bradley noticed the same thing.
Jackson Webb likes how they swim while Kelsie Stillwell and Jazmine Bailey noticed their color and the pattern of their shells. Luke Caso likes that they are camouflaged.
“I think they are fascinating to watch,” Dannika Kretz said.
Heartland Elementary School in Elizabethtown also has some turtles. Maryjane Boes has had turtles in her preschool classroom for three years.
She has used the pets to, for example, teach life cycles and concepts of living things, personal responsibility through taking care of the pets and graphing numbers and sizes.
Each year she allows the students to name the pets to encourage them to think creatively about the names.
She had a student make a connection to the “Wonder Pets” television show from the first day he met the turtles.
“Last year, we had a student who sang the ‘Wonder Pets’ song every time he came into contact with the turtles,” Boes said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.