Plants and pets help children feel better about themselves. They are living beings children can take care of, watch grow, and talk to–without fear of criticism. Many children who have problems getting along with people are naturals with animals.
In the classroom plants are easier to take care of than animals; however, animals bring out more emotion in children. You might try a manageable pet like a lizard, snake, hamster, or fish, letting children take turns at being its caretaker. Personally, I like dogs the best. They’re more human. You can tell when they’re happy, sad, anxious, mad, or curious. Dogs and classrooms, unfortunately, do not go together well. Some options you can try, however, are (a) having a pet show where children bring their pet or stuffed animal to school for the afternoon; or (b) a take-a-pet-for-a-walk-program–you may find some neighbours who would love to have someone take their dog for a walk during the day.
If pets are out, then try plants. I like plants that have an end product: a flower, vegetable, or fruit which give children a definite source of accomplishment. While I worked in residential care the children dug up and planted their own vegetable patch. They watched their seeds pop out of the ground, grow into real vegetables, and finally they ate them for dinner. For the city kids it was the first time they had watched a plant grow into something they could eat.