A fluffy bunny. A clucky chicken. Even a squishy silkworm. You’d have to be blindfolded to miss the delight in a child’s face when they interact with other living things (that aren’t human of course) but there’s much more to children and animal interactions than meets the eye.
When children have opportunities to spend time with animals, it’s about much more than just stimulating their senses.
Yes, they love furry cuddles and experiencing the different ways that animals look, eat, move, sound and feel - but research shows that animal interactions can actually improve children’s social interaction, reduce stress and anxiety and increase motivation and learning.*
Animals have long been embraced by educators as a valuable resource in supporting and enriching children’s learning and many schools and childcare centres have resident pets which provide invaluable animal experiences for children - and adults too!
Many centres also organise animal-based incursions and excursions to provide opportunities for children to have direct contact with animals and develop bonds with them - and of course, to inspire them on their learning and discovery journeys.
Animal interaction is such an important component of early education that it is included in the National Quality Standard (NQS) which sets a high national benchmark for early childhood education and care and which is an integral component of the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). ACECQA works with governments to oversee quality at all childcare centres around Australia to improve outcomes for children.
ACECQA believes that learning about empathy, relationships, the environment and nature are just some of the benefits children receive by caring for animals.Having a pet at a childcare centre gives children an opportunity to observe, interact and learn about animals and it can be a valuable part of their education and care experience, enriching their learning about nature, ecology and relationships. **
One early education group which takes this approach very seriously is Nido Early Schools which has a very active programme of pet care and animal interactions at their many centres around Australia. Like ACECQA, they believe that animals are the ‘fourth teacher’ - a conduit to learning - which is an extension of their Reggio Emilia approach to early education.
When children interact with animals, they build the all-important senses of connection, empathy and caring. They feel a sense of responsibility and are curious to find out more about the animal (or even bird, insect or fish).
Caring for a pet instills respect for life and an awareness of the needs of others as well as giving children an understanding of how their behavior can affect others. Having pets like rabbits and chickens on the school’s premises lifts the children’s spirits, lessens tensions and even improves attendance at school because the children are so keen to interact with the animals.
As mentioned earlier, research studies suggest there’s a scientific grounding for having pets in the classroom so it makes sense for parents to look for early childhood education providers that offer plenty of different opportunities for children to interact with animals throughout the school year.
Nido Early School is one such provider and for a first-hand experience of their ongoing programmes of pet and animal interactions, why not make an appointment to visit one of their premium child care centres near you? They are one of Australia’s leading early education providers with child care centres across the country and you can find out more at nidoearlyschool.com.au