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Hosting a Montessori Menagerie

Have you ever… sat next to a three-foot long iguana (or a giant rabbit or a cockatoo) while laying out the Square of Pythagoras on a rug?

With such experiences, how can we not be in awe of life? In such circumstances, life itself is exciting, unusual, normal, and mystifying all at the same time. Pets are a great way to provide a concrete example of the uniqueness and individuality of living things.

But we have fears – personal fears, logistical fears, concerns for the animal, concerns for the children… The list goes on and on, but, frankly, solutions are easy and simple and provide the cornerstones of respect for self, others, and the environment.

There are many ways to have animals in the classroom. Occasionally, wildlife rescue programs, zoos, and traveling animal troupes like Classroom Safari in Sonoma County, CA will visit classrooms and provide hands-on experience with animals. This is a guaranteed way to excite children about animals and inspire plenty of curiosity. Seeing a Fennec Fox or a Snow Leopard firsthand is a perfect invitation for an inquisitive, researching mind. Imagine how such an experience might inspire the child to ask: What? Where? Why? How? When? How many?

A few Montessori things to keep in mind…

If you’re willing and able to keep an animal as a permanent guest, I have found classroom pets to be, quite simply, amazing members of our classes and a wonderful “material” for the children. And, just like any good lesson, caring for pets provides a point of interest and purposeful work.

Ask around to make the best match.

Determine the children’s interests. Research the needs and welfare of animals you are considering. Ask around about animals in the classroom. See who has what and how it’s working. Observe children in classrooms caring for their animal friends. All my classroom animal choices have been facilitated by a dear Montessori friend across the country (Thanks, Alice!), whose science background, experience, and inspiration led me way outside of my comfort level and brought much joy and learning to the children.

Observe and understand what your children are capable of providing. Ages, skill level, awareness of others’ needs, and empathy are all needed to care for animals. Your