Rabbits make great guests in the Classroom.!
A fifth grade teacher opens her classroom door moments before her students follow in behind her. There in her path is Mr. Whiskers, a large, bright-eyed black rabbit ready to greet the children. Mr. Whisker’s home is in the classroom. The children love him dearly and learn responsibility by sharing Mr. Whisker-tasks. Mrs. Garner trained the rabbit to use a litter box, and so he is not restricted to a cage. Not at all; in fact, he hops around the classroom while the students are hard at work.
Mr. Whiskers, a Calming Therapy
One of Ms. Garner’s favourite things about Mr. Whiskers is the calming effect he brings upon the children; especially during the most challenging and intense coursework. Throughout the day, he will make his rounds from child to child. He puts his paw up on one student, stands up to see another, and then stops to listen to the teacher letting one ear fall as if in hushed agreement with the children that the material sure is challenging! Having a rabbit come greet each child may seem like a potential distraction, but the students are so adjusted to his presence that they maintain their focus. “I’ve never had a problem with distractions,” says Ms. Garner, “The children LOVE him being around.”
Teaching Responsibility: Class Jobs
Everyone works together to take care of Mr. Whiskers. In the classroom, the students have a responsibility chart with tasks assigned to chosen students each day. Many of the tasks are related to taking care of the rabbit. Someone changes the litter, someone provides fresh water, and someone else makes sure the food bowl is full. The more tasks, the more Ms. Garner can teach responsibility.
Taking Mr. Whisker’s Home: The Unique Weekend Activity
Ms. Garner gathers permission slips at the beginning of the year from parents agreeing Mr. Whiskers can have a weekend at their house. Not every parent can allow the bunny at their house. Each Monday, Ms. Garner tosses those names who haven’t had a turn into a hat. The name drawn will be sent home with a note saying that this child has been selected to take home Mr. Whiskers; if it’s not OK, let her know. If it is OK, she has the parent sign the note letting her know that Mr. Whisker’s weekend plans are affirmed. Since the rabbit is not allowed on the bus, the parent must come to the school to come pick Mr. Whiskers up in a carrier. The student in charge of Mr. Whiskers for the weekend has certain care-taking responsibilities. When the weekend is over, the student writes a paragraph about My Weekend with Mr. Whiskers, which posted onto the class blog.
Mr. Whiskers as a Reward Method
Ms. Garner often uses Mr. Whiskers as a reward for when a student behaves particularly well or when they have done a great job on a task. The student can take a ten minute break from their classwork, and go sit on a large comfy bean bag with a book and Mr. Whiskers on their lap all to him or herself.
Mr. Whiskers as a Fun Friend
Many of Ms. Garner’s students say that Mr. Whiskers is a close and personal friend of theirs, and so Ms. Garner uses this theory as a way to teach polite and kind social behaviors that friends should have between friends. At lunch, the students will save an apple slice, carrot piece, or celery stalk and share it with Mr. Whiskers. Even the lunchroom staff loves Mr. Whiskers and will donate a whole apple to the student who can ask most politely. Mr. Whiskers, of course, always politely extends his gratitude for his carrot by being extra gracious.
Mr. Whiskers as Inspiration for Learning
The students are much more eager to learn about something the moment Mr. Whisker’s name is thrown into an academic problem. Math word problems are much more fun when the problem is about Mr. Whiskers. Reading comprehension is much more fun when the subject is about rabbits. Science subjects are more digestible when the teacher says that Mr. Whiskers favourite subject is science. No matter what, when Mr. Whisker’s gets involved, the subject is about to get exciting.