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The North Ormesby Academy Reading Rabbits

posted 30 Jan 2017, 02:43 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 30 Jan 2017, 07:14 ]
When it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people; from physical, mental and emotional improvements, to enhancing social skills and decreasing a person's risk of heart attack.

There are wonderful organisations out there like PAT Dogs that train dogs and people to take their pets into hospitals, nursing homes and schools to provide some of the joy and health benefits pets bring.

As well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol, pet owners suffer fewer minor ailments such as colds. Dogs can also act as "early warning" to detect an approaching epileptic seizure or sniff out disease. Medical Detection Dogs is an amazing organisation that trains dogs to help people with life-threatening medical conditions such as diabetes. They are currently being trained to detect cancer. Dogs are used because their sense of smell is around 10,000 times more acute than ours.

Pets can also teach those with learning difficulties or autism to engage and interact with the outside world. There are numerous case studies of children who, before getting a pet, had been locked inside their own little world, uncommunicative and cut off. After forming a bond with their pet, parents find that almost by miracle their child emerges into the outside world; they engage and show levels of emotion not previously experienced. That is the miracle of pet ownership.

So what of pets in school?

Pets have been found to enrich the classroom experience. Observing and caring for an animal instills a sense of responsibility and respect for life. A pet brings increased sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others - both animals and humans.
Studies show that the presence of animals tends to lessen tension in the classroom. Caring for pets in the classroom is one way of improving school attendance and teaching children about responsibility.

Health & Education

It’s official! Studies show that children from families with pets are better equipped to fight off infection than children from non-pet households, showing significantly higher levels of immune system performance. When school attendance records were compared side by side, researchers discovered that children with pets averaged more days at school every year than their pet-free counterparts.


The study also showed that children turn to pets for emotional well-being, with 40% of children choosing pet companionship when feeling down. Children were also found to seek out their pets when feeling tired, upset, scared or lonely, and children said they enjoy doing homework and learning with pets nearby.

Pets Build Self Esteem

Helping to take care of a pet gives a child a sense of pride and accomplishment, especially if the animal is able to return the affection. Shari Young Kuchenbecker, Ph.D. (research psychologist at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles) says, “The child who cares for a pet knows that what he does matters, and so he’ll want to do more of it. The more successfully he feeds, walks, or emotionally bonds with the pet, the more confident he’ll feel.” In fact, studies conducted by the Waltham Centre have shown that children with pets have higher levels of self-esteem than those without pets.

Pets Teach Responsibility

Even a small child can begin to learn to care for the needs of another living being. Whether helping to empty a cup of dry kibble into the rabbit’s bowl, or filling the hamster’s water bottle, it’s never too early to start teaching children proper animal care. Studies show caring for pets aids in improving school attendance and teaching children about responsibility.

Pets become friends

Nobody enjoys being treated roughly. Children soon learn that if they want to be liked and trusted by the family cat, they’ll need to treat her carefully and kindly. This sort of training benefits all children, but is especially important to small boys who don’t often get the chance in our society to practise nurturing skills as girls do.

Reading Dogs

Dogs are being used increasingly in schools to help improve children’s literacy. 
It is an unusual idea but researchers think they have proved a link between stress and poor learning habits. The purpose of reading dogs is to lessen stress in the classroom and increase their ability to learn. It is being overseen by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust and includes schemes organised by several canine charities: Pets As Therapy, Caring Canines, Dogs Helping Kids, Building Understanding Of Dogs and Reading Education Assistance Dogs. All use trained dogs in schools across Britain.

The idea has proved so popular that Pets As Therapy, which operates a scheme called 'Read2Dogs', now has 200 schools on its waiting list. The premise is simple: instead of reading aloud to a teacher or classmates, a child reads to a dog. The dogs come in all shapes, sizes and breeds as long as they don’t bark, bite, jump, growl or do anything frightening. Some sit beside the child’s chair, others even sit on a child’s knee. What matters is that the dog, unlike a human listener, is a completely uncritical audience. This relaxes the child and helps build confidence.

Our Reading Rabbits


The waiting list for a dog is long - we couldn't wait, so decided to explore the idea of other animals. It was then that we heard of two little rabbits looking to be 'rehomed' and adopted. Thus arrived Toffee and Truffle (as the children named them). The appropriate risk assessments are in place and they reside in the classroom during the day and go home to a teacher's house for weekends and holidays. They have a big outside run when the weather is nice.

During their classroom time they sit next to the children and offer them an outlet to read to or emotionally bond with. They have places to climb, hiding places to go and relax in when they want to be alone and a litter tray which they've been trained to use. All the children take their turn in caring for them and they've been settled with us now for almost a year. 

So what impact have the rabbits had within the classroom?

The children are best placed to answer that; here's what they've said...

"The rabbits have made the classroom a calmer and more relaxed place to learn."

"I enjoy the sense of responsibility it gives me by looking after the rabbits."

"I know they can't speak human but I still like to read to them."

"The rabbits have big ears so that makes them good listeners."

We simply couldn't imagine now life without our very special Reading Rabbits!


Chris Hall (Y3 teacher) - 30th January 2017