The minute they see a familiar animal, many young children immediately clap in excitement and start mimicking the noises they make. This highlights an automatic fascination that children have for animals. Perhaps they instinctively understand the benefits that interacting with animals can have on their growth. Animals and children act on their instincts, especially in the early years, rather than on learned responses. This similarity draws children to animals.
The Connection Between Animals And Children
An American biologist, E.O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia”, which is the innate connection which humans feel for other living things. As individuals become adults, they begin to see animals as ‘useful’ for companionship or protection. However, children feel connected to animals simply because they – like them – are living beings.
At Aurora, our outdoor play area has a guinea pig hutch, with two resident guinea pigs which our children love playing with. It’s lovely to see them gently stroking and feeding them.
Social Emotional Growth
Researchers have found that children who constantly interact with animals strengthen their empathetic and caring skills, which extend to their human relationships. If given the chance to engage in caring for the animals by feeding them, a child’s sense of responsibility is strengthened. When an animal appears to be scared by a loud noise, a child will comfort them, strengthening their empathy.
Close relationships with animals can also help increase a child’s self-esteem. Based on research, the Pet Health Council in the UK has commented “Children with low-self esteem may talk to, or confide in an animal in ways they would not with people. They are often more confident in performing tasks they find difficult with an animal simply because the animal does not care if mistakes are made, nor will the child be afraid of looking silly in front of the animal.”
Reading aloud to an animal or confiding in them will improve a child’s confidence. Some children even use their inquiry skills to ask the animals’ questions!
Staying Active and Healthy
Both animals and children have seemingly endless amounts of energy and are the perfect partners for outdoor play. Walking the dog, throwing Frisbees for it or even letting a rabbit out to eat some grass are all exciting activities for children.
As they play, their gross motor skills improve and they are more motivated to spend time outdoors – away from screens!
While interactions with animals are extremely beneficial, it’s important to teach children healthy practices. Hygiene is extremely important to maintain – guide children to wash their hands after playing with or feeding animals and teach them that they should not touch cat litter boxes.
Behaviour should also be monitored – while most children are instinctively gentle with animals, curiosity can sometimes get the better of them. Explain that pulling ears, tails and paws can hurt the animal.
They should also be taught not to approach strange animals without asking for their owners’ permission first. Be sure to highlight the difference between wild and domestic animals and stress that wild animals should be observed quietly, from a safe distance.
At Aurora, educators try to enhance children’s connection with animals by encouraging them to play with our guinea pigs and through stories and songs which explore different animals’ behaviour.
We also have several animal themed incursions and excursions planned through the year. In April, we will be having a Living Eggs incursion, a unique program which will allow our learners to see eggs hatching. In May we will have a dog safety incursion for children at the centre, who are over three and later in the year, we’re excited to be planning a farm excursion for our older children.
We’re delighted that our learners will reap the benefits of continuous positive interactions with animals.