WHEN VIEWING ON A MOBILE DEVICE -- DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM
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special seems to happen to children in the presence of animals. They are
calmer, more curious, and more joyful. I wanted to be able to articulate why.
I continued to wonder, can children’s natural love for—and curiosity
about—animals be dovetailed into meaningful encounters with animals in
the classroom? Are encounters with animals really that important? Do they
have any real impact on children’s development? Can early childhood ed-
ucators provide children with meaningful connections with animals, even
if they can’t have animals in the classroom? What about animals at home?
What can parents and other caregivers do to deepen and strengthen the
strong bonds between their children and the family pets?
It’s been my experience, and the research certainly
bears it out, that animals can help children develop sen-
sitivity to others, they can offer comfort, and they can even
provide a safe sounding board for secrets and feelings that
children don’t share with adults. Animals provide oppor-
tunities for children to hone their social skills, practice
caregiving and nurturing, and even to carefully explore
issues of power and vulnerability.
Clearly, animals are important, and most adults recog-
nize this. Children seem to know intuitively that different
animals have different mannerisms and behavior, and
require different treatment to evoke a response. Not only
do animals ignite cognitive curiosity, but they also evoke
emotional responses in children. Just think about the de-
light a child shows upon seeing a chipmunk or a family
of ducklings paddling across a pond, or the sheer joy she
expresses when a colorful butterfly flits past. A few wasps
approaching a group of preschoolers having a picnic may
elicit screams and panic. Present that same group of chil-
dren with a fluffy white puppy, and the explosion of delight will be almost
palpable. Many adults have anecdotal knowledge of the benefits that animals
offer to children, or they seem to recognize intuitively the deep value in pro-
viding children with experiences involving animals. Perhaps these adults
know from years of experience working with young children that animals
are precious, exciting, and captivating for young children. Some educators
are unable to articulate why they know animals are important for young
children, but they “just know” that they are.