Math + Pet Overpopulation = Great Activity for Young Students

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At our student residency this summer, IHE M.Ed. student, Cassandra Scheffman, led a terrific activity for young children that combines basic math skills with an exploration of pet overpopulation. The activity can also be adapted to any situation where someone or something is being "squeezed out."

Eventually this activity will be available for free download on our website, but for now here's the step-by-step.

  • 1 pair of dice
  • A white board to draw on and markers, or cut outs of puppies and kittens, and tape
  • A picture book about spaying/neutering animal companions, such as It's Raining Cats and Cats by Jeanne Prevost

1. Let students know you're going to talk about dogs & cats. Ask students to raise their hand if they know someone who has a dog or cat, or have ever met one, or have one themselves.

2. Ask a few students to briefly share something about a dog or cat they know.

3. Ask students to raise their hand if they've ever seen or touched a puppy or kitten. Ask: "What's a puppy or kitten like?" Ask: "Have you ever played with a puppy or kitten? It's a lot of fun, isn't it?"

4. Let students know that they're going to play a game, pretending they're cats and dogs, and puppies and kittens. Ask students to stand up.

5. Count off 12 students (or have a student do so) and ask them to move to one side of the room. Ask those left to find a partner. Let the partners know that they're going to move to the other side of the room and create a home by holding hands together and putting their arms up (to make a peak for a roof). Note: If you have fewer students, you can move 6 students to the side of the room and have the remaining find partners -- and then you would use 1 die for the activity.

6. Ask the 12 students to get in a straight line. Ask the student at the front of the line to decide whether s/he is a dog or cat. Say she chose dog. Tell her that she is a mama dog, and ask her to roll a pair of dice to see how many puppies she has. After she rolls the dice, ask her to add the two numbers together. (Or you could have students in the line all do it together.) The total number is the number of puppies she has.

Note: To make this more complex, you could, for example, have 3 dice and have students practice adding two numbers and then dividing by the third.

7. Now the mama and puppies have to try to find a home (inside the arms of the pairs of students acting as homes). Let them know that not everyone will fit. (You can also designate a limit to the number of animals that will "fit" inside a home, so that there are more left homeless.)

8. Have students look and see how many puppies/dogs are left over (didn't find a home). Draw a picture on the board representing each dog/puppy who didn't find a home (or tape up the cut outs).

9. Repeat items 6-8 several times, alternating between dogs/puppies and cats/kittens, each time drawing (or posting) a picture to represent the number of animals left over. You may also wish to have students switch around, so that those making the homes have a chance to be kittens/puppies (and rest their arms), etc. Depend on the space and age of students, you may want to encourage students to get down on all fours and act-out being puppies/kitties trying to find a home.

10. Once you've repeated the exercise several times, ask students to come back together and count (or add in groups) all the puppies/dogs and kittens/cats who didn't find a home.

11. Ask students to brainstorm ideas for "What can we do for the puppies and kittens who didn't find a home?"

As students share their ideas, acknowledge their ideas, and also talk about why some of those ideas might seem helpful at first, but aren't the best choice to help dogs and cats. For example, if students suggest taking them to an animal shelter, you can mention how quickly shelters get full, how not everyone can find a home, and how expensive it can be for the shelter to keep them (and that not all shelters are nice places). If students suggest letting them live outside, you can mention: "Sometimes we might think that they could live outside, because they're animals. Any idea why it might not work to leave them outside?" (no food, bigger animals could hurt or eat them, no shelter, they could get hit by a car, etc.) "They rely on us to take care of and protect them, don't they?"

12. Tell students that there's one especially helpful thing that we can do. An animal doctor (veterinarian) can help us. Read them a book such as It's Raining Cats and Cats by Jeanne Prevost (or tell a similar story you know of).

You can leave them with this saying to help them remember (and have them repeat it): "Doggies & kitties can be cute and pretty. But spay & neuter all doggies & kitties."

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