Nurturing Children’s Love for Animals

An excellent piece of writing by Patty Born Selly, shared via Natural Start.

“Research shows that humans’ innate interest in animals is biological: we are drawn to species that are “other” than human and in many cases have an instinct to want to care for or nurture creatures that are small and vulnerable.

In 1984 E.O. Wilson, a biologist, introduced the idea of “biophilia”-that innate affinity we humans have for other living things. In recent years, many early educators have recognized this affinity in young children and have embraced a philosophy that includes lots of living natural materials in the classroom (such as plants and flowers), nature-based play areas with landscape features that include lots of vegetation, and providing plenty of outdoor time for children.  Children can truly thrive when allowed extended periods of time in natural settings that are full of life. A “biocentric” approach to early care and education means more than just providing opportunities for nature play however. It can—and should—include opportunities for children to connect with living animals.

Unlike adults who tend to value animals for what they can provide (food, leather, wool), or how they can serve us (as companions), children tend to value animals simply because they are. They recognize the intrinsic value of animals—that simply because they are living creatures, they are important.

When children are outdoors and are visited by an animal or when they enter an animal’s space (nature) they feel lucky. It’s as if they’ve been invited into a special world. Bringing a child to a wild place, a wooded park or even just a schoolyard, where there are opportunities to encourage wildlife sightings or other kinds of connections, can help children develop that innate love for animals. An added benefit? A growing body of research shows that children who are supported in their love for animals tend to generalize that love to other living things, such as plants and nature. Research also shows that when children are encouraged to care for animals, they tend to be more sensitive and caring toward other people as well. So by supporting children’s love for animals, you’re helping nurture those all-important feelings of connection and stewardship as well.

Supporting children in their growing awareness and interest in animals can lead to deeper feelings of empathy in young children, more positive classroom relationships, and social-emotional development.  As children have experiences with animals, they learn about differences and similarities, needs (such as for food, shelter, water and space), and compassion and empathy can grow and deepen.”