What is Mutt-i-grees?
Matia Finn-Stevenson, Research Scientist and Director, Yale School of the 21st Century
The Mutt-i-grees Curriculum was developed as a collaboration between a world-renowned animal welfare organization, North Shore Animal League America and Yale University School of the 21st Century, part of the Yale Child Study Center. Mutt-i-grees strives to create a humane world and provide opportunities for children to grow up learning to be confident and caring – about themselves, other people and animals.
Inspired by the research on the benefits of human-animal interactions, in particular, dogs’ ability to help people become calm and socially connected, the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum was developed to teach children Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills using canine-assisted activities and interactions. The program is a unique combination of humane education and social and emotional learning.
Social and emotional learning is an important part of education and academic achievement. Children face stresses in school and home and need to be equipped with effective skills and resources if they are to deal with the challenges of school life and beyond. To be socially and emotionally competent, children need self-awareness and understanding of the social world around them. In the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum, we leverage children’s interest in pets as well as the benefits associated with pets, especially dogs, to promote children’s social and emotional competence, improve behavior and social interactions and enhance their awareness of shelter pets.
The opportunity to interact with pets, or simply routinely think about pets, can provide social support and increased health and wellbeing. The research also suggests that pets can increase sense of community and social interaction. Pets provide opportunities for important social and emotional growth, yet not every child has access to a companion animal.
The Mutt-i-grees curriculum builds on children's natural love of pets and provides a real-life context within which to teach social and emotional skills. Children and are supported to be caring and confident people who can make a difference to their school and wider community.
A series of lessons are designed to help children become resilient, identify their strengths, skills and talents and areas in which they can improve. The lessons are presented in five units: Achieving Awareness, Finding Feelings, Encouraging Empathy, Cultivating Cooperation, and Dealing with Decisions. Activities and readings focus on dogs, and some schools choose to establish partnerships with their local animal shelter to give the children first hand experience of subject matter and bring the lessons to life.
Integrated throughout the curriculum are feature lessons based on dog whisperer Cesar Millan's principles. These features were developed to teach children about the instincts and behavior of dogs so they can better interact with and care for dogs. This also provides an interesting opportunity to explore social and emotional learning, as children can use the unique characteristics and behaviors of dogs to discuss differences in human personality, for example. It is also a chance to demonstrate to children the value of empathy and compassion.
Children have opportunities to explore how to encourage themselves, challenge self-doubt and negative thinking patterns and learn when to seek help. Self and social awareness is generated to enable children and their teachers to engage in positive relationships and make decisions based on ethics and responsibility, whilst avoiding negative behaviors. Using shelter dogs, traditionally vulnerable and misunderstood, provides a perfect talking point for these issues so that children can engage in complex topics without realizing they are doing so.
The program is a whole child approach to education, intended to extend beyond the weekly lessons and become part of the school culture.
The lessons have been field-tested with each grade level in classrooms across the USA, in schools of all sizes and in rural and urban areas.
How do you implement it?
Get to know the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum
Check out the website: education.muttigrees.org. Here you can discover important details of the programme, including the evidence and philosophy behind it. Learn how educators are using the programme in the classroom and beyond, and what it means to them and their students.Read more ›
As you explore the website, think about what interests you about the program. Are you interested in engaging children in overall education and promoting kindness? Are you concerned with behavior problems such as bullying or with students with special needs? Are you interested in providing your students with opportunities to contribute to the community?
The program can be used as a prevention approach for all children as well as an intervention with children with emotional, developmental and behavioral problems.
Discuss the programme with your principal
Getting the whole school on board will help you get the most out of the programme. Let your principal know about the program and seek their approval.Read more ›
Although the programme can be implemented in many ways, it appears to work best as a whole school approach. Even when it begins in one classroom, it quickly extends to the whole school as everyone wants to get involved!
Order the binder and take the time to explore it
Binders are available for Grades Pre-K to 12. Once you receive the binder, you'll want to read the introductory pages and review the lessons.Read more ›
You'll see that a lesson plan template was created with teachers in mind: it's user friendly, includes the objective and rationale for the lesson and a list of the materials and readings you will need. The materials are simple and usually available in class. Recommended books are available in local libraries or at low price through Amazon.
Establish connections with parents and the community
Mutt-i-grees works well with or without an actual dog, but its worth checking out the possibility of having a dog in the classroom!Read more ›
Ask your principal about the possibility of having a dog visit the classroom or school. If you want to get a dog into school, there's many avenues you can try. First, contact your local animal shelter. Often, local animal shelters will visit schools for special assemblies and they may be happy to be part of your Mutt-i-grees learning. Some libraries may have a reading therapy dog they could volunteer, or some families may have a dog they adopted from a local shelter that could come into class.
Most schools allow a dog visit and even the daily presence of a dog, but some may have restrictions, such as requiring the dog to be registered as a therapy dog. Any visiting dogs should ideally be of calm and social temperament.
It's easy to get started, as the lesson plans take you through step by step. You might want to consider staff training, although it's not essential.Read more ›
Training sessions as well as school-wide professional development are available upon request. However, training is not essential; each lesson plan has discussions that are highly scripted, and serve in lieu of training. Don't feel you have to follow to script precisely, it's there to give you confidence and support if needed.
Mutt-i-grees will provide you with basics for implementation in each of the lesson plans. Educators feedback is that they love the lesson plans in part because they often inspire them to think of even more fun activities.
Some educators have even created Power Point Presentations for each lesson and these are shared on the website.
There are 25 lessons presented in five themes. To be effective, themes have to be implemented in the sequence presented. Each lesson takes about 35 minutes. If you cannot implement all 25 lessons, select 3 lessons per theme for a total of 15.
The majority of schools find that students want to continue Mutt-i-grees beyond the first round of lessons. They extend the experience by: using some of the extension lessons available online, using the original lessons in conjunction with cats, utilizing Cats Are Mutt-i-grees 2!, incorporating physical fitness activities, games and dance; and participating in Mutt-i-grees sponsored events.
As well as focusing on social and emotional learning, the Mutt-i-grees curriculum encourages teachers to incorporate physical exercise to help children stay fit. Several schools have taken the lead in this area, producing dances to song such as ‘Walk the Dog’ or creating Mutt-i-grees musicals. Letters to parents and activities aimed at families are included in the curriculum, encouraging families to participate and reinforce what the children are experiencing at school.
Keep up to date with events, activities and the latest Mutt-i-grees news, as well as sharing experiences on social media.Read more ›
Mutt-i-grees is more than a curriculum. Throughout the year there are numerous opportunities to enter contests and participate in nationally sponsored community events, or additional activities such as the Mission Mutt-i-grees and the Mutt-i-grees Ambassadors Program. Activities are posted on the website as well as via e-newsletter and special mailings.
Mutt-i-grees educators share their experiences via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, so it's worth getting connected!