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2 Why Are Children
in Animals, Anyway?
Ava has loved cats since she was old enough to turn her head and watch
the family cat strut across the room. Now that she’s six, she even
knows when her pet’s birthday is, often makes cards and gifts for him,
and runs to greet him each day when she arrives home from school.
Matthew watches out the classroom window at his preschool each
morning, waiting for “his” squirrel to hop by.
Jasmine loves horses and ponies, and although she’s never seen one
in real life, her teacher says she’s almost obsessed with them—she
draws pictures of them and selects books about them, and her favorite
toy is a stuffed horse.
Whatever form a child’s love for animals takes, it’s obvious that animals are
very special to children. Some children are more forthcoming about their
love than others. Some children have lots of favorites, and others limit their
love to just one or two. What seems to be universally true is that just about
any child you ask will be able to tell you something he loves about animals.
Ask a shy child what her favorite animal is, and she’ll open up right away.
Children love to tell stories about their own pets, animals they’ve seen in the
wild, special memories of the zoo, and other meaningful events. This alone
tells us something basic and simple: animals are important and special to
children. Many people intuitively understand but perhaps have never heard of the
“biophilia hypothesis,” the idea, put forward by biologist Edward O. Wilson
in 1984, that humans have a natural affinity for other living things—plants,
animals, and the natural environment. According to Wilson, because we
are alive, we humans all share an innate need to associate with other living
creatures. In recent years, many early childhood educators have recognized
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