Do Pets School at Work, or Work at School?

To mark Take Your Dog to Work Day (June 26), I offer this piece from 2010, published at Lesley University as “The Magic of Mario and G Force.” Learn what a difference pets make in the classroom.

It’s a steamy spring afternoon in a city school. Twenty-six hot first graders in navy polo shirts plop onto the rug to hear their teacher read a story.Brown and white guinea pigs Afterward, she asks her students to write a journal response from the perspective of hamsters Mario and G-Force, the class pets.

Then the magic of this lesson unfolds. As students drift to different areas of the room to write, many of them choose to sit in the camp chairs arranged around the large hamster cage. It has tall rolling legs, bringing it right up to student level—perfect! This means Mario and G-Force participate as full members of the class, offering viewpoints from all 4 sides as they nibble, groom, and snuffle around.girl writing

Students who gather around Mario’s and G-Force’s cage sit as easily in their camp chairs as if they were adults sitting around a campfire, except they have journals in their laps. Voices drop to a murmur as students read Mario’s perspective aloud to themselves or review G-Force’s opinion with a partner.

Where is the teacher during this half hour of student writing? Not at her desk, which is practically invisible. She’s working one-on-one with two or three students as the rest of the class handles the writing on their own.

And their writing is terrific! Children show me some of their journal responses and I see spirited and imaginative writing, wonderful vocabulary, and students who love to write. Mario-G-Force-and-camp-chairs-as-writing-center is a blueprint for success if ever there was one.red guinea pig

For first graders only, you say? Not by a long shot. I’ve been in secondary classrooms with pets and comfortable chairs and they are the kinder, gentler places our adolescents need to support their growth and development.

Try some Mario and G-Force in your classroom. The results won’t disappoint.

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