Mars research finds animals in the classroom can help children learn better

A new review of research published recently shows, with the right safeguards and welfare, animals in the classroom can benefit children by reducing stress and anxiety and improving social interaction, motivation and learning. This applies to both children with and without learning disabilities.

The research review, done by the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, US National Institutes of Health, examined the growing body of evidence from classroom studies. It finds that the inclusion of animals in the classroom can have an indirect effect on learning by directly affecting motivation, engagement, self-regulation and human social interaction.

“Animals could be the ultimate cure for back to school blues. Research suggests that animals in the classroom could improve children’s attitudes to school,” said study author Nancy R. Gee Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at SUNY, Fredonia & WALTHAM Human Animal Interaction Research Manager.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Children are more likely to follow instructions, maintain focus and perform certain tasks requiring motor-skills (e.g. completing an obstacle course) faster in the presence of a dog
  • Children performed some cognitive (e.g. recognition memory) tasks better when accompanied by a dog
  • The presence of a dog in the classroom can improve children’s attitude toward school and helps them to learn responsibility, respect and empathy
  • Dogs in the classroom can reduce emotional outbursts, aggression and other disruptive behaviours, while improving communication between teachers and students

However, extensive data documenting the extent and nature of Human-Animal Interaction in education settings is sparse. The authors of this review are therefore proposing a new theroretical framework of learning that might help to establish how animals may influence education outcomes.

“There is increasingly strong evidence that the presence of animals in the classroom may be beneficial to the learning environment. More research will be crucial to ensure we can better harness this amazing potential impact of animals on student learning,.” added Nancy.