Raising and caring for a live animal is an experiential way to teach about the life cycles and habitat needs of living things, as well as to teach children values such as responsibility and follow-through. Depending on their ages, you might ask your students to research a specific animal and its habitat needs as part of a living terrarium project.
Have your students do research and make suggestions for how to build the habitat for a specific animal. As part of an elementary ecology lesson, teach your students about how every living thing needs food, water and shelter to survive. In addition to these three main components, you can also stress how each animal has specific niches, or places in the ecosystem, where they are designed to thrive. As an example, reptiles often live in mild to warm climates because they are cold-blooded.
Take your class outside to find objects to prepare the terrarium and animal habitat. You can use natural twigs, plants, rocks or dirt. Remember that certain animals, such as lizards, enjoy having sticks to climb on to bask underneath a heat lamp. While outside, you can also review the basic needs of living things and explore natural habitats while you are helping your students gather materials for your terrarium habitat.
Caring for an animal involves responsibility, organisation, cleanliness and attention to detail. For example, lizards need a regular feeding schedule, specific temperature requirements in the environment, and protection from the heat underneath a shaded rock or platform, as well as a place to bask in the heat. Thermometers must be used for temperature regulation to make sure your lizard does not become stressed from too little or too much heat. You can also choose certain students to take turns feeding your classroom pet. However, be careful that you do not use it as a reward that only students with the best behaviour or grades can achieve. Find creative ways to reward all of your students over a period of time.
Howard Gardner, an educator and researcher, identified seven different intelligences based on cognitive research regarding learning styles. Hence, using different teaching styles can help students with different learning styles to engage with and absorb the material. As an example, you can use experiential learning games such as those found in the book "Project Wild." Other learning styles may benefit from creative expression, such as composing a poem or singing a song about animal habitats.