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Virtual pets: How to bring more joy and teach responsibility in online classes

As we've said in a previous article, emergency remote teaching enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic is not synonymous with online learning. Online learning comes with a different type of pedagogy that should address content, teaching methods, and student/teacher relationships. Of course, all of that is according to the characteristics of the new learning environment.

The socializing role of the school is essential for child development. As we all know, schools are not just a place where knowledge and content are transferred from teachers to students. Granted, students go to school to learn things, but schooling is more than that. Schools are communities where students of all ages continuously interact with their peers and teachers.

Socialization is a complex process in which humans learn the intricacies of human behavior. Far from being “soft” skills, proper social skills are, in fact, crucial for all individuals. As members of a social species, people cannot survive alone and have learned to cooperate with other individuals.

Most of us feel the need to interact not only with other humans but also with other species. Humans are most likely the only species that keep pets. Studies have shown that owning a pet comes with benefits for our mental health: it reduces anxiety, depression, it calms us down.

The CDC mentions other health benefits, such as decreased blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels, reduced triglyceride levels, reduced feelings of loneliness, increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, and increased socialization opportunities.

How pets found their place in the classroom

For most kids, a pet is their best friend. When I was in kindergarten, my best friend in the whole world was a big orange tomcat called JR (Dallas was a huge success back then).

With this in mind, schools have adopted pets to boost students’ engagement and social skills, especially at young ages. The Pets in the Classroom program is a good example.

Pets have helped children across the country become more nurturing, caring, and more engaged in classroom activities. Not to mention that pets offer many new exciting learning opportunities:

  • Math — How much does a hamster weigh?
  • Science — What does a snake eat?
  • Geography — What part of the world do ferrets come from?
  • Writing — What words would we use to describe a goldfish?

So why not use some technology and adopt a virtual pet for your classroom, especially during these trying times, in which schools function remotely?

Virtual pets in virtual classrooms

With the current shelter-in-place recommendations, children feel isolated from their peers. A virtual pet might bring back the cohesion of the group. Some teachers and parents might remember their Tamagotchi, the famous toy fad in the 90s and early 2000s, so why not give virtual pets a try?

There are a lot of Android and iOS apps that can be installed and played with. They are readily available, and some are even free. We will name just one to make the decision easier. Hellopet (iOS and Android) is an excellent app for kids who want their own pet. The app can be installed on mobile devices, and it uses screen overlay functionality on your phone to give you a little pet. Kids can see it when they use their devices: when they answer a text message or while they scroll their app drawer. The game itself allows users to adopt the pet, take care of it, and play little mini-games.

A virtual pet will teach students to be more responsible, as they have to take care of it. Showing empathy and being less self-absorbed are essential social skills for students of all ages. In an era that praises individualism, overachievers, and success at any cost, people tend to forget the benefits of kindness, meaningful social relationships, and gratitude.

Read more: Transforming our schools through empathy

But life is also about living in a community, being responsible for yourself and your family. At an early age, taking care of a pet instills those values which will hopefully stick for a lifetime. Why not go back to taking care of pets (virtual, if in confinement) and show our students what is essential in life!

Get your (virtual) pet!

The effects of confinement and isolation are already beginning to show. Public health specialists speak about ways of addressing the new epidemic of anxiety and depression caused by isolation. Pets (even virtual) might be the help we need! Let’s make our online classes pet-friendly and help our students become more empathetic and more socially engaged.