It’s time for students to heave a collective groan and start hitting the books again. While PETA doesn’t condone copycatting, there are many brainy animals who would be great cats to copy from if your kids found themselves seated next to one. As hundreds of studies have shown, other animals can understand cause-and-effect relationships, form abstract thoughts, solve problems, use language, make tools and more—just like us.
For example, in algebra class, your kids should buddy up with a dolphin. These math-minded mammals rely on complex nonlinear mathematics to navigate the vast ocean and find food.
For help with sociology, hire a rat for tutoring. Empathetic rats will free their restrained cagemates, even if it means they will then have to share a mound of chocolate. So they’ll have no problem helping your kids learn about patterns of behavior in social groups.
Would-be broadcasters who sign up for speech classes will find a whale of a class partner in a sperm whale. These whales use different accents to identify members of their extended family and whales from other regions of the world.
Bees could be a huge help in political science. When a decision affects the whole hive, they put it to a vote. So no matter which side of the aisle students’ political beliefs fall on, bees can help them understand the democratic process.
In physical education, blackpoll warblers should always get picked first. Every fall, these tiny birds make the 1,700-mile trip from New England to the Caribbean without stopping. So if your children have to run laps, thinking about a blackpoll warbler’s grueling trek will make them feel a whole lot better about it.
College students struggling with engineering courses should try to sit next to a beaver. The dams these natural builders make increase water supplies for farms, help prevent erosion and improve fish and wildlife habitats. Scientists are even starting to turn to beavers for tips on dealing with climate change.
In psychology, students can never go wrong studying with an elephant. These highly intelligent animals have complex social structures and relationships so intimate that they flirt with one another and even argue about directions. Elephants will likely always be up for a rousing “Mars vs. Venus” debate.
For language arts classes, baboons are a student’s best bet. These clever monkeys can tell whether a group of letters is a real word or just gobbledygook—and they might even help out with that Grapes of Wrath paper that went awry.
© iStock.com/Patrick Gijsbers
For help studying for just about any other class, encourage your kids to get chummy with goldfish, who have longer sustained attention spans than we do. In a study done by Microsoft, goldfish were able to concentrate for nine seconds, while humans managed to do so for only eight.
And if your kids are looking to make some new friends this school year, help them get in good with crows. When a girl named Gabi started feeding crows in her garden, the birds recognized that they’d made a friend and started waiting for her to get off the bus. They also expressed their thanks by leaving her gifts, including a pearl-colored heart, an earring and a tiny piece of metal with the word “best” printed on it. The crows have even found and returned objects that Gabi’s family lost outside.
But perhaps the most important thing we can learn from other animals is compassion. Once we learn more about animals’ intelligence, needs and interests, we begin to recognize that it is our duty to treat them with respect for who they are—rather than what they can do for us.