Nature education

Our HMP Animals Tale

Hatfield Montessori is a school which emphasizes the importance of a love for Nature and our environment. We have had pets at school from soon after the school’s inception.


Much as we loved them, and enjoyed seeing the babies, it soon became evident we couldn’t keep up with finding homes for new arrivals. One of the babies was adopted by a German family and lived a charmed life as their dearly loved pet. When they returned to Germany, Sandra went with them and lived for 8 years as an immigrant to Europe.

Guinea pigs

Once acquired we ensured that there was no further breeding. Guinea pigs are extremely cute and so very conversational, with a variety of squeaks and interactions as they are brushed and cared for. They respond well to all the pieces of grass plucked by little hands and pushed through the wire in the hopes of a response.

Dwarf hamsters

I think for 2 – 5 year old children dwarf hamsters are too difficult to handle and definitely not a good mix with a dog. Let’s say no more than to say an escaped hamster is seen as prey by a hunting dog.


They provide a calming view where children can just observe them swimming peacefully in the tank and at the same time learn something about their biology and care.

School dog

Since about 1992 there has also been a “school dog”. The first one was Merry and he was a very gentle Labrador who was instrumental in making many children feel at home. In fact one little boy who came directly from Beijing found Merry the only thing he could relate to at the school. Our language and appearance were different to what he knew but Merry was like the dogs he had known in China. He would spend long periods with Merry and it was through naming the parts of Merry’s anatomy that he began to acquire a knowledge of English vocabulary. So we would sit pointing at Merry’s eyes, then ours and saying “eye’ etc.

In his old age, Merry had a stroke during a Christmas holiday. By the time school reopened he had regained some mobility but still couldn’t walk. The children were absolutely amazing at helping him with his physiotherapy exercises and giving him encouragement as he slowly recovered.

Next it was Nessa, also a Labrador but a very different character to Merry. As a puppy one might have defined her as ADHD. Her hyperactivity at times led her into mischief, running off with various items in the hopes of an active game and once even swallowing a pair of socks which had been left on the ground. She was always on the go and learnt to scale the wooden jungle gym along with the children.

At the time we had an old boat in the playground and Nessa was quite willing to sit in the boat with the children as they rocked it back and forth and pretended to go on long voyages.

She had an innate sense of which child was having a “bad day” and would go to sit next to any child she felt needed emotional support.

Currently there is Suri who is still young and getting to know the children. Her presence helps to develop empathy skills. By teaching the children what is needed for her care they learn to put her needs before their own.

The children have learnt the need to use a calm and quiet voice and small movements in order to get a positive response. We have talked about how to understand what a dog is feeling and to react appropriately. This was much helped by a visit from DogTown where the children learnt what it meant to be able to say “I Speak Doggie” and also how to stay safe when meeting a strange dog.

All in all the pets have shown that much of what is written about having living animals in a school is absolutely true and has many advantages.

In an article on the website Dogs Connect they state:” The presence of a dog in the classroom has wide-ranging benefits that can improve the learning environment for students and teachers alike. Studies have shown that students may have improved academic performance, better social skills, and greater self-esteem due to regular interaction with a canine companion. Additionally, research indicates that dogs can help to reduce anxiety, increase comfort within educational settings, and generate positive emotions between students and instructors.”

They also say about pets in general:” The presence of pets in educational settings can have a wide range of positive benefits, especially for students experiencing stress or emotional difficulty. Pets can provide therapeutic support and can help increase feelings of comfort and motivation in students.

For instance, animals can act as a form of emotional support for students who may be struggling with social interactions or self-confidence issues. Having an animal present can provide a sense of safety, allowing students to open up more easily when discussing their problems or communicating with others. Studies have also found that pet contact not only increases levels of oxytocin (a hormone associated with trust) but also reduces cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress). This can lead to improved emotional well-being for those who struggle to feel secure in unfamiliar environments. Furthermore, spending time with animals can release endorphins, resulting in reduced anxiety.

In addition to providing emotional support, having a pet in the classroom can also activate student interest and improve the discussion. For example, having a dog nearby often encourages more creative conversations as children engage directly with the animal while sharing ideas. Moreover, research suggests that physical contact with animals — such as petting dogs — improves student focus and decreases restlessness during lectures, leading to more engaged pupils within the classroom environment.”

What pets have you experienced in a school setting?

Photo credits:

**Guinea pigs Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash @bonniekdesign

** Rabbit Photo by Jeremy Hynes on Unsplash  @hynesightt

**Dog by Sabina Fratila on Unsplash

**goldfish Photo by Pouria Oskuie on Unsplash @pouria_oskuie

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