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Preschoolers Learn with Live Pets

Children at Bloomin’ Preschools learn all about pets and some classrooms even have live animals that pay extended visits. Assistant Supervisor Ann McGregor explains, “Pets is a topic that children can easily relate to. Pets teach the students the importance of taking care of others, showing affection, being sensitive to others' needs, and developing lasting friendships.”

Most of the pets are housed in a common area at the Bloomin’ Preschool at Fox Hills site. Retired staff member Marge Sabat returns to the building a few days a week to feed the pets and clean the habitats which include several aquarium tanks and large cages with activity and sleeping areas.  During the recent long school closure, Sabat kept the animals at her home and made videos with them for the students. “All of the animals are rescues,” explains Sabat, adding that the PTO typically assists with some of the costs.

“For the pets study, I put the animals on carts, and each classroom has one pet for a week,” says Sabat, who gives a presentation on the pet and answers all the preschoolers’ questions. “The kids totally lead the study with their really good questions. I also rotate the animals each Friday so the kids get excited about which animal they will get next.” 

The questions are a key component of the instructional methodology. “In the beginning of the pet study our teachers ask ‘What do we know about pets?’ and ‘What do we want to know about pets?,” says McGregor. “By asking these questions, teachers are able to intentionally lesson plan to answer the student's questions and offer experiences through our interest areas.To delve deep into investigations, other questions the teacher may ask are ‘What kinds of animals are pets?, What are some characteristics of pets?, How do pets make us feel?, Where do pets live?, What do pets eat?, and How do we care for pets?’ The students develop thinking skills as they observe, investigate, ask questions, solve problems, make predictions and test ideas.”

The pets have varied behaviors and habitats which gives the preschoolers opportunities to explore this diversity. Besides the 40-year-old malaysian terrapin named Donatello, there also are Rosmarie and Violet who are mother-daughter chinchillas, Boo the rabbit, Ollie and Sunny the leopard geckos, Sebastian and Sunny the hermit crabs, Tippy the bearded dragon lizard, and many fish. Sabat has been working with the animals for more than a decade and knows everything about their unique features, habitats, typical activities, and defense mechanisms. 

“For example,” Sabat said, “I’ll explain that the geckos need warm humidity like when people take a shower and the room steams up, and I’ll show the kids how the teacher will spray them with some water. I’ll also explain how they need the UV rays from special lights that are like our sun. It’s so easy to pull science concepts into all of this. And then the teachers will take what I talk about and go even farther.”

Since the animals stay in the classrooms, the children get to see all aspects of their activities, like when the chinchillas take a dust bath and how the rabbit eats timothy hay. “Sebastian was fantastic because he even transferred into a new shell while he was in a classroom, and the kids got to watch it happen,” says Sabat. 

There are many hands-on experiences at Bloomin’ Preschools, called Choice Time, incorporated into each study as well. “During Choice Time, the students may set up a pet shop or a veterinarian clinic in Dramatic Play,” describes McGregor. “In Toys and Games a child may be patterning small and large dog biscuits or playing dog/cat tic-tac-toe. In the Art Area, a child might create a cat collar from pipe cleaners and paper. In Discovery, a child may be exploring X-Rays of an animal. The children have numerous opportunities to pretend, explore and investigate.” 

Other studies include trees, recycling, insects, buildings and simple machines. All studies incorporate concepts and skills in literacy (i.e. listening and comprehension, book enjoyment), mathematics (i.e. patterning, measurement),  science (i.e. natural and physical world), social studies (i.e. geography), the arts and technology (i.e. fine motor skills, movement). 

“You have to be engaging with preschoolers,” emphasizes Sabat. “They really have a lot to say!”

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