No, not a real animal. If you are teaching little children one of the best investments you can make is some kind of stuffed toy animal. Puppets, of course, are an effective way to teach children dialogues and sentence patterns. But bring the right toy animal to class everyday, and it will essentially becomes your familiar. Shannon Sensei has a wonderful piece on her site that really nails this on the head, especially when it comes to the choice of toy animals.
In my case I like to use a monkey. He’s not that big, a little scruffy and gangly. I picked him up second hand for a buck or two from some kids who were selling their old toys at a school sponsored flea market. We’ve been friends ever since.
Why a monkey? He suits my personality. I can just imagine what he might be like if he were actually alive. Over the years Monkey (that is his very literal name) has developed his own voice and personality. His age varies, but it is always the same as the kids I’m teaching. If he were human, he’d probably look and sound like a slightly mild manned version of J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man. Of course my
JJ Monkey sleeps a lot, loves bananas, and is ever so forgetful, always asking the same questions again and again, never knowing what things are called, and for the life of him Monkey couldn’t find the flashcard of a ball if it were literally in front of his nose.
All of this is a show for the kids. They love interacting with Monkey and watching him interact with me. Although there’s always somebody who points out that it’s actually me talking, the kids don’t really care. They can never get enough of him, and soon start to think of me as the guy who brings that funny monkey around. They’re enthralled.
And that’s the whole point of having him. Now that I’ve got the kids’ attention, they pick up what I’m teaching that much better. By repeating himself so much Monkey helps cements words and phrases into their minds better. Kids will jump out of their seats screaming the answer to my questions, trying to help Monkey, who just never quite gets it.