As the more than 25 children in longtime kindergarten teacher Lisa Silvey’s class sang “1, 2, 3, Jesus Loves Me,” faint whistles matched the unified melody.
It wasn’t accompanying music or from their teacher. It was from a young male parakeet that resides in their classroom throughout the school year.
Named for the famed astronaut and his “moon dust” hued exterior, Neil Luna is a new addition to Silvey’s class at St. Martins School. However, he joins a mainstay older female parakeet, Kindergarten Kiwi, as part of the classroom pet program Silvey has included in her curriculum for many years.
“Through the years, I have had various other pets in the class. I have had a rabbit, mouse, goldfish, Beta fish and a hamster,” she said. “However, I have found parakeets to be the most user-friendly and can help the most with cross-curriculum lessons.”
For 12 years, Silvey has had parakeets in her classroom. In teaching science, Silvey haslearned quite a bit about the birds, in whichshe helps relay to her students during her lessons. For example, she used to have only one parakeet, but then learned it was better to have them in pairs if you can.
“From what I have researched, they seem to be social birds,” she said. “They are OK as a pet singularly, but they thrive better if they have a partner. This is what led to our breeding program last school year.”
St. Martins School Principal Eddie Mulholland had assisted with an animal breeding program when teaching at another school. “He said, ‘What do you think about that?’ and I said, ‘That would be great,’ not knowing how successful it would really be,” Silvey said.
Kiwi and her male partner had multiple babies, with Kiwi hatching at least 12 eggs and numerous others during the last year. Silver said many families in the community voluntarily opened up their homes to become foster parents to the parakeets, with Silvey also taking one of Kiwi’s daughters home to join her own flock of pets.
“This year, we have a younger friend, Neil Luna, for her because her other friend was very old. This year we had another lesson, when animals and loved ones pass away,” she said. “We had that lesson and now we have a new friend to enjoy and learn from.”
Neil Luna and Kindergarten Kiwi are classroom pets, but these parakeets are more than just entertaining mainstays to the kids who see them five days a week. They are educational tools, they are co-teachers, and they are friends. Silvey said last year they used the parakeets for math lessons during the breeding program, and they also learn about parakeets and bird biology.
“They are also learning with the parakeets. When we do group reading and they hear that unison reading, they will chime in. I’ll say, ‘Listen, they are reading with us.’ We also talk about what would it be like if a bird could read,” she said. “We bring them into our journal writing, as well. I’ll ask, ‘What would it be like for a bird to have a holiday?’ You let the kids develop their critical thinking skills and think outside the box. You can use them for everything and it keeps the students engaged in learning.”
There are times when the birds go to a special corner when Silvey needs the children to fully focus on a task or lesson. However, for the most part they are up front and center of the classroom, constantly interacting with the children and ever present to remind the students in how to care for their classroom pets.
They help feed and water Neil Luna and Kindergarten Kiwi, as well as help Silvey make sure their “home” is clean. They also make sure they have toys, play, sing and have fun. Both parakeets enjoy the disco ball that hangs in their cage, and Kiwi enjoys perching herself in front of the mirror, admiring her brightly colored green and yellow feathers. Kinley Radioman paid homage to her classroom pets during a coloring project, including their toys, disco ball and Kiwi’s favorite accessory.
“These are all her toys and the mirror she likes to look into. They love to play with their toys,” she said in describing her picture in front of the class.
The kids also shared information about other birds they have learned about, ones that lay eggs and others that don’t, how they look when they are young versus growing up and the proper way to care for their bird friends.
Most of the kids just love having them in the class, and think they “are cool” and “are very pretty,” like Dylan Lage said. Students’ families even volunteer to take care of them during the summer months before Silvey introduces them to a new group of kindergartners the next school year.
“When we were planting marigolds in these little cups, those were not just their marigolds.They were ours, including our parakeets,” Silvey said. “They really feel like they are theirs, which makes learning that much more fun for them.”