Kids and critters, reading and learning

3:31 pm May 7th, 2014

Jack the rabbit is an audience for a story time for Eatonville Elementary School kindergarten students. (Jim Bryant/The Dispatch)

Jack the rabbit is an audience for a story time for Eatonville Elementary School kindergarten students. (Jim Bryant/The Dispatch)

By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
In the middle of a classroom at Eatonville Elementary School, five kindergarten students sat cross-legged on the floor next to cages with a rabbit and guinea pigs and listening intently while a paraeducator read to them. A few feet away, some classmates stood around a parent volunteer who was telling them about fleet-footed members of the animal kingdom.
The first day of PALS (People and Animals Learning at School) was going the way Cate Ivers hoped. Kids and critters were creating a productive and fun setting for reading and learning.
Ivers, who teaches kindergarten at the school, proposed PALS to fellow teachers and Eatonville School District administrators as a way to give children added motivation to read through interaction with four-legged friends. She got the go-ahead to run the program Monday through Friday last week, with every student at each grade level at Eatonville Elementary getting a chance to participate in animal-themed reading and writing activities.
“Kids love animals. I thought putting them together would be a way for the students to get excited about reading,” Ivers said.
It worked, said Stacey May, whose daughter, Siara, is one of Ivers’ students. May volunteered to read to them, at one point wowing them with facts about wild animals that can run at speeds of 30 miles per hour.
“It’s really neat to see how excited and interested the kids are as you’re reading to them, and when they see the rabbit and the guinea pigs. Their eyes light up,” May said.
As the kindergarteners paraded out of the classroom to go to lunch, a group of fifth-graders arrived to visit the learning stations, complete the checklist of activities, and spend some time around the special, fur-covered guests.
The rabbit, named Jack, belongs to Ivers’ neighbor. The guinea pigs are pets of the daughter of a school cook at Eatonville Elementary.
If PALS is successful, Ivers said, the animal lineup may change next school year to include service dogs, cats or ponies.
“There’s just something about animals that gets kids’ attention,” she said.

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