Anneliese School animals programs bring the classroom to barnyard

Anneliese students read to a mini horse as part of the school’s Animal Learning Program. Courtesy of Anneliese Schools

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

The Animal Learning Program at Anneliese Schools is a point of pride at the private institution whose hallmark is providing unique educational opportunities for nursery school through sixth graders. With its creative approach to learning, Anneliese is among the first to successfully implement animal learning programs that take full advantage of the relationships between young children and animals. Over the last three years, kindergarteners, and, more recently, first-graders at all three of its campus locations read to and spend time with the schools family of three mini horses.

Three times a week, students spend 30 minutes with the animals as part of the Mini Readers program, taking turns reading to and grooming them. Through an additional program called Second Steps, the students are encouraged to relate to the horse as a non-English speaker. With a teachers guidance, students learn to read nonverbal cues and how to build a relationship in a freeing, nonjudgmental environment, a crucial step in social and emotional development.

The reading program is designed to inspire the children to get excited about books, Anneliese’s Animal Care Coordinator Janet OFaolain said.

The students I know that may have some attention focus concerns in the classroom have reported that being with the animals has made a difference in their ability to pay attention in class. When reading to an animal, instead of feeling judged if they make a mistake, they often feel freer and more confident,” she said.”

The children often make the horse a part of the reading session, showing them pictures in the book, as a teacher would with a student.

Annelieses animal programs started with its Farm to Table handcrafts program. In addition to the mini horses and goats, the school also houses three alpacas, whose fleece is used by the students in their arts and crafts classes. The children knit, weave, and dye the fleece to make bags, slippers, hats, and rugs, enhancing their fine motor skills and problem-solving abilities while producing useful keepsakes for their families.

Students are invited to take part in alternative recess options, including spending time with the many animals on campus. Students can volunteer in the schools aviary, collecting eggs, feeding, and taking inventory of the many different birds who live there. First graders are allotted time once a week to go into the aviary for hands-on learning about the different species in residence.

“The animals help to calm me down,” said Alva, a third-grader at Anneliese. “I just bond with them and they listen to me and theyre good. Its almost like having a sister or brother.”

Other animals on the campus include goats, whose fun personalities and size make them perfect companions for the children. The goats typically need some time to warm up to the human, but once they do, they become playful and interactive, a good socialization experience for the students. A beloved goat named Oreo recently had surgery to remove urinary stones. This type of surgery, only performed at a few clinics in California, is surprisingly dangerous. It was a small miracle that Oreo survived. The school is now fundraising to replenish its emergency veterinary fund.

To learn more about Oreo and his surgery, or to donate, visit

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