One thing I’ve heard repeated from parents is how much their children’s behavior improves around animals or babies.
One parent of a past student told me years ago that her son, who struggled daily with the schedules and expectations of school life, became completely docile when someone placed a newborn baby in his arms. She was initially nervous to have him do this, thinking he would accidentally hurt or jar the baby. Instead, she said, his body kind of melted into the baby and calmed instantly. She’d never seen him that relaxed and focused. The image of that remains in my mind, years later.
A teacher friend shared that her young son was dropped off to her classroom by his daycare provider ten minutes before her class was dismissed. This class, which had been routinely disruptive and non-compliant, changed the moment her little boy entered the room each day. They’d all calm down, lower their voices, and take her young son under their collective wing.
Animals have the same calming effect. Some people have a classroom pet to serve this purpose, though I’ve never felt comfortable with this, as I don’t believe in caging anybody. But one thing I started years ago that fit the bill perfectly was using Bird Cams in the classroom. You may have seen a few of these online. They are cameras installed to view birds’ nests or feeding areas. The birds remain free and unbothered and we get to view them and learn about them in their natural environment in real-time. If you keep the sound on, you can hear all the chirps and sounds of nature.
I’ll often have these up during Morning Work time and Quiet Time after recess/lunch. I use an LCD projector, but having them on view via a computer/TV screen would work too. The reaction of my students is remarkable. Some kids will draw or read and will keep glancing up at the birds. Others will pull up a chair and just watch it, like TV. Others get a big squishy stuffed animal, and curl up on it, watching the birds and often falling asleep. (I teach fourth graders, but they are truly still little kids at heart, much as some of them might wish to seem older.)
My favorite site for this is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
If we zoom in a little closer, you can see all of the options you have.
For years now, we’ve been watching the Red-tailed Hawk nest, where Ezra and Big Red return year after year. (They live high on a light fixture on the Cornell campus!) As of this writing, the nest is empty, but they should be returning soon! Each year they lay about 3 eggs, and the class gets very excited each day to see if any of the eggs has hatched. Once they do, it’s Cutesville for a couple of months! (And boy to those babies grow FAST!) You can always look back on past videos. Check out this cute-pie:
Here’s a view of the Cornell Feeders:
My husband and I actually visited this center (above and below) a couple of years ago while on a visit to Farm Sanctuary in NY. It was an amazing place, with a large pond, tons of high-tech binoculars you could use for free, a library, a lovely reading/bird-watching area and — I’ll admit it — a killer gift shop. I could have spent my whole paycheck there.
Here is the feeder cam they have in Ontario:
And a Bermuda Cahow:
There are a number of other nests/views. Just take a peek at their menu and you can visit each one in real time!
While I use this during our quieter times of the day, you could also use this during indoor recess or at home with your little/big ones. This would even make a great thing to put on while trying to get your younger little cherubs to go down for a nap. It’s so soothing and yet fascinating.
Give it a try with your classroom or children. It’s free, it relaxes children, it educates them, and it helps them appreciate the fascinating world we live in. (And if you use it as often as I do, you might consider giving a donation to them, or asking your classroom or school to donate some money. I don’t get any kickback from this nor do I know anyone there. 🙂 I just think they’re a terrific organization that provides an incredible service to my classroom.)