Unusual Animals in the Classroom: Encounter with a Pig
Louie, named for Louis Armstrong, is a one-year-old, ten-pound, micro-miniature pig. He belongs to Savannah Smith, a practicum student studying special education at Ball State University. Louie is the size of a small dog. He likes to burrow into a person’s lap. His hair is coarse. Instead of paws he has trotters. He is a friendly and personable pig.
As part of her studies, Ms. Smith spends time in special needs classrooms at O.W. Storer Elementary in Muncie, IN. IN a kindergarten classroom that she spent time in under Cathy Branscome, Ms. Smith worked with students with Down syndrome, autistic tendencies, and cognitive disorders. The students are sometimes wary of new experiences and encounters. Part of their lessons involve engaging with new sensory experiences appropriately and getting used to different sights and sensations.
For one of her lessons she decided to bring Louie to class.The students were working on handling different sensory experiences. They did not like touching sand, shaving cream, or other new and different things. Louie fit the bill as something new. “I wanted to show my students something different, but accessible” said Ms. Smith.
When Louie was introduced to the classroom reactions were mixed. A few students were excited, some hesitant. Most of the students had never seen a live pig this close before.
Other teachers and schools have discovered that animals can have a positive impact on the attitude and learning outcomes for students, especially students with learning disabilities. According to “How We Did It-Pet Project”, an article in The Times Educational Supplement, students with learning disabilities who interacted with Daisy, a certified therapy dog, were calmer and more confident (2009). Students behaved better in classes and were more alert and engaged.
The effect that Daisy is reported to have on students was also noticed in Ms. Smith’s classroom. In addition to being calmer, the students in Ms. Smith’s class seemed more confident and willing to engage in different activities. Normally, the students dislike physical education class, but after their hour with Louie many of the students were calmer and less resistant to participating. Ms. Smith also noticed that another student was more willing to play with shaving cream, something he is normally resistant to doing.
Wendy Siegel in her article “The Role of Animals in Education” highlights many areas where inclusion of animals into the classroom is beneficial for academic improvement, behavioral improvement, increased willingness to trust, and stress relief for students. Her survey of the relevant literature found that up to 25 percent of teachers already include animals in their classrooms (2004). The animals in the studies were primarily familiar ones: cats, dogs, and birds. Ms. Smith’s inclusion of a pig is an interesting addition to the menagerie of animals that have an impact on students in the classroom.
Regarding Louie’s behavior at home, Ms. Smith said, “At home he runs around, chews on things, but the second we got into the classroom, he was a completely different pig.” While mostly well behaved and respectful a couple of the students were unintentionally rough with Louie, but he was well behaved and allowed them to pet him and pull on his back. “One girl even asked if she could pick Louie up, something the pig does not like,” said Ms. Smith. The girl successfully scooped him up and Louie stayed calm and accepted the attention like it has his due.
As Ms. Smith recounted her story I was struck by how calm the pig was around the children. I have had the privilege of meeting Louie before. He had very little patience with us 20 somethings, but infinite patience for these students. What was different about that situation to cause Louie to behave so well? Whatever the answer, Louie was a big hit with Ms. Smith’s students, and raises interesting questions about the perceptive powers of some of our closest companions.
Ms. Savannah Smith, Special Education major at Ball State University, Muncie, IN
(2009). How we did it-pet project. Times Educational Supplement. 4862. Special section 28-30.
Siegel, W. (2004). The role of animals in education. ReVision. 27(2). 17-26.