In studies of children’s dreams, 80% of young children's dreams are about animals. Seems as though nature has designed us that our dreams support the all important development of relationships with the animal world. Animals in our environments offer the children authentic experiences of observing, caring for and even mourning the loss of feathered, furry and scaled friends. Cultivating children’s relationships with animals during early childhood is one of the best ways to foster empathy.
Animals are as important a part of the environment as are the loose parts.
Between The Nest and Little Earth we have five chickens, one rooster, several chicks, two turtles, three guinea pigs, one cat, three rabbits, three fish, and two dogs. Those are the pets that are part of our community. Having beautiful gardens at our places also invites plenty of birds, insects and other wildlife, including frogs and geckos.
Children are as keen to learn how to be a great friend, or a caring person to an animal as they are to learn to be a great writer or competent at counting.
We are not just people sharing a space, but a community who learn, play and work together in the spirit of peace. If we think of the children as spending their time in a community, rather than in a classroom, we realise how important the development of their interpersonal skills are. Learning to be with others is as much a part of the curriculum as literacy and mathematics! This includes learning to be with animals.
Animals need to be treated with love, care and kindness.
It may be the first time children learn about kindness and care with animals. Children must see care, love and kindness in action when being with the animals. If you have pets and children are able to drag the cat round like a handbag the message the children are getting is that the animal is not a free and equal being. Children need to see what love and care looks and feels like when you have a pet as part of your family.
If we give children the curriculum of life, we give them the key to unlocking the door to wonderful and magical play and discovery.
The gift we give the children through having a variety of pets is priceless. Through the very special close connection with pets children learn about what respect 'looks and feels like'. This is the best education children can have when it comes to role-modeling. Children know our values by how we are to them. Lets be the best example of love, kindness, and care and this will be felt by those around us. Imagine what children are learning when they see and join teachers caring for and loving the animals.
Having animals needs to be a heart driven decision and all need to be on board.
The key prior to getting animals is that there is a shared belief and understanding around owning and caring for animals and the team have to totally agree to have that shared love and conviction that animals in ECE is way more than the ‘pet in a cage’ type approach. Having animals at your centre is a really big commitment in terms of their care over the weekend and holidays. It is not something to take lightly. The most important thing is that your team are natural animal lovers. There is a commitment needed in the way we care, respect and model 'being' with animals.
For the survival of the planet we need budding ecologists and nature nurturers.
If we give children a special gift of animals in their early years we are giving the whole planet a gift as this is imprinting at a cellular and emotional level on the importance of care, love and kindness for animals and nature. Hands on experiences with real animals create truly memorable experiences for children, something they can never receive from only looking at books or a screen. Only authentic experiences can truly touch the heart. Children have a natural kinship with animals and find them an endless source of wonder. It is this relationship with the natural world that must be nurtured in those early years for it to become a foundation for life.