Second installment from teacher and dad, Nick Myers, on pets and life lessons
I am fortunate to have in my classroom a modest freshwater fish tank containing 6 fish. This simple addition has become very important to the children. In fact, of all the responsibilities available to the children (cloakroom monitor, book monitor, pencil monitor, etc.) fish tank monitor is the most prized. Aside from the daily pinch of food flakes the role includes a monthly water change and tank scrub. The most exciting part of the job being the netting of the fish and their transfer to a jug.
On one such occasion I had three monitors assisting me and so fairly requested that each child net and transfer two fish apiece. All was going well until number five was deposited in the jug and there was no sign of the sixth. Then one of the girls spied him, belly-up, at the bottom of the tank.
"He's dead!" Declared the girl. I could see her bottom lip begin to quiver and though I have ample experience of dealing with physical injury in the playground emotional upset is, well, different.
"That's okay," I started, a little unsure of myself, "His name is Deadrick."
"Really?" Replied the girl in astonishment.
"Yes. I thought he'd be the first to go, which is why I called him Deadrick."
To cut a long story short another child suggested he be buried. A box was selected and decorated. Then, alas poor Deadrick, he was ceremoniously laid to rest in a corner of the school grounds.
That afternoon the news was shared with the class and on popular request the remainder of the day was given over to the writing of obituaries.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you dash out and purchase the first fluffy creature you see. Or that when your young child asks why you bought a pet you reply, "Because it has a short life span and will soon die. Thus providing you with a lesson in coping with grief and also expose you to the concept of mortality." That would be absurd.
Animal husbandry creates a wealth of educational opportunities. Learning to feed, groom and clean-up after pets instills a sense of responsibility in children that only caring for something, or someone's, welfare can generate. Importantly, prior to a purchase you will need to have several conversations with your other half as to what type of pet will suit your family and lifestyle. It's a cliche I know, but 'a dog isn't just for christmas' is also a truism. Maybe a fish, a chicken, a tarantula, lizard, rabbit, terrapin or budgie would be more suitable.
Unfortunately, it is inevitable (sadly) that one day a close friend or family member will pass away and though the experience of looking after and eventually laying your own Deadrick to rest can never assuage the profound sense of loss your family will face. It just might be that the experience of caring for a pet and all the joy, worry, loss and companionship it brings to a family, might just provide your child with the beginning of a coping mechanism. I mean, aside from the occasional soiled carpet or chewed table leg what have you got to lose?