lower school science class chinchillas

Pet-agogy in action—Lower School science class welcomes chinchillas

Visitors to Sushma Lohitsa’s grade 3 science and engineering class are likely to hear all manner of squeaks, squawks, and chirps. “Over the course of my six years here,” Lohitsa explains, “I’ve had a menagerie—we’ve had mice, rats, rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, guinea pigs, crested geckos, leopard geckos, green long-tailed geckos, parakeets, finches, fish, turtles—you name it, we’ve had it.” But two new additions to the classroom, long-tailed chinchillas Kida and Nerys, have launched students into a whole new process of inquiry.

Animals find their way to Lohitsa’s classroom in a variety of ways, usually because their previous caregivers could no longer keep them. In Kida and Nerys’ case, a pupil connected Lohitsa to a UChicago grad student who needed to rehome the furry critters. Once the animals are welcomed into the menagerie, they immediately begin to give back to the classroom community. “I find that the pets really help ground students who struggle with transition,” Lohitsa says. “It gives them a sense of excitement and a reason to feel comfortable coming to class.”

For Kida and Nerys, students had many questions about the animals’ diets, habits, and social needs. Rather than explain these herself, Lohitsa realized “this is a great opportunity to learn how to do some research.” Learners threw themselves into their chinchilla research, developing questions and exploring reference material. In addition to learning more about their new pets, the students gained important insight into the importance of using trusted, reliable sources while doing internet research.

In addition to improving learners’ skills of intellectual inquiry, the chinchillas have been beneficial to their social emotional learning as well. After a “tough conversation” about how hunting has decimated the wild chinchilla population, students decided to fundraise for a research foundation in Chile helping wild chinchilla farms. “Kids are just so compassionate, and I think that as long as teachers listen to that interest and that passion…they really are inspired,” Lohitsa says. “Even at eight years old, you can do many, many, many things if you’re truly invested.”

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