4 Reasons to Teach Your Preschoolers About Animals
Dogs aren’t the only animals that can be “man’s best friend.” Any pet can bring everyday joy and affection to your child’s life and make childhood memories all the more special. Not only do they become an irreplaceable part of our lives, but pets also motivate and encourage us to learn at a level we may not even realize. Learning about, interacting, and communicating with animals strengthens not only your little one’s brain, but their heart too.
An animal-loving child will watch squirrels scamper up the tree by their window, call out to dogs they pass in the park, and watch worms wiggle on the sidewalk. This affinity for engaging with and learning more about animals can boost children’s empathy and increase their knowledge of the natural world, significantly and positively impacting their overall intellectual and emotional development.
Summer holidays are a great time to encourage children to engage with animals through books, games, and trips to farms or animal sanctuaries.
Along with the fun your little one is sure to have with these activities, here are some of the developmental benefits:
1. Boost Social Emotional Development
While interacting with animals, children learn how to be empathetic, how to interact with others, and how to take on responsibility. To begin, children can notice the sounds and behavior of an animal like a puppy, and use their intuition to figure out how the animal feels or what it needs, exercising their empathy skills. At a place like a shelter or a petting zoo where kids are able to pet, feed, and play with animals, little ones can decide how to help them. This enables a child to learn how to care for another living thing. Furthermore, children’s communication skills are strengthened as they learn that animals use non-verbal means to show a desire to play or to eat.
Beyond interacting directly with the animals, playing with animals at a farm or shelter often includes a social component. When visiting, little ones can work with you, a friend, or someone whose job it is to take care of the animals. Doing so pushes them to learn how to speak respectfully and cooperate, while also taking on some responsibility.
2. Captivate Intellectual Attention
Being around pets or animals at home or in school can increase your child’s academic interest. Learning about different animals not only gets your little one interested in that specific creature, but can also draw them into related fields, like geography, weather, and botany. For example, if your child is really into snakes and lizards, they can study their different habitats like the deserts of the Southwest and the Amazon rainforest, which can lead them to wanting to learn more about why the desert is so hot and the rainforest is so wet, as well as how specific species of plants survive in each spot.
Furthermore, studying animals encourages curiosity in children and provides them with the space to make observations and inferences. For example, maybe the class hamster likes to take a nap right after it eats a snack. Ask your child why you think that is and how they feel after they eat a snack. By watching animals closely and thinking critically about how to best take care of their own pets, your child will strengthen their logical and problem-solving skills.
3. Motivates Out-Of-Textbook Learning
Many classes or experiences at a farm or the local zoo offer experiential learning opportunities that expand your child’s knowledge. Spending time with an animal, hearing the sounds it makes, feeling its fur or skin, and watching it move greatly adds to the information your little one already has learned about animals. Back in the classroom or at home with a book, your child will better relate to the text since they have real life experiences to pair with the information.
4. Enhance Their Psychological Well-Being
Learning to take care of pets or taking on responsibility for animals gets your child involved in many practical tasks. For example, you may task them with feeding your pet, or keeping track of them while playing fetch in the park. These physical activities not only encourage your child to get out and exercise, but also helps develop their fine and gross motor skills. While they get the health benefits from exercising like increased heart rate, oxygen to their brain, and strengthening of their bones and muscles, getting out with a pet also requires your child to use gross motor skills like balancing on uneven surfaces, and fine motor skills like clasping and unclasping the leash. Not only does exercise boost your little one’s mood, but the self-confidence they’ll get from taking on responsibility for a pet and accomplishing the tasks required to do so will cultivate a positive self-image.
Knowing all of these benefits, here are some easy ways you can help your child engage with animals!
1. Visit the Zoo
Besides housing many kinds of animals, many local zoos also conduct classes and other activity sessions that allow children to interact with and learn about animals. Check out your local zoo’s website and see if children can get a chance to pet a giraffe, find out how monkeys maintain their balance on trees, or discover many species of earth friendly bugs and worms. In some instances, children may be allowed to experience life amongst the animals by working as a junior assistant to the zookeepers.
2. Volunteering at Animal Rescues
Volunteering is a heartwarming way to introduce your children to animals as well as teach them about empathy and responsibility. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), for example, is an international organization that encourages compassion and kindness towards all animals, especially those that have been rescued from suffering.
Although children may be too young to take up major volunteering tasks, simply accompanying parents to the shelters to play and spend time with the rescue animals can be a rewarding experience. These spaces allow children to learn about animal care and understand the responsibilities necessary for building a cruelty-free world.
3. Taking Nature Walks
Family trips to natural sanctuaries, hiking trails, or even just a walk in the park can lead to wholesome experiences with animals. Keep your child engaged by playing games such as spotting a certain number of birds or squirrels. Spotting different kinds of birds, insects, and other animals can spark curiosity about nature and motivate children to learn more.
Another game that can be played is “I Spy.” Put a cool spin on this classic game by describing various animals and asking your child to recognize them. Not only will this help your child develop observation and reasoning skills, but it will introduce them to the diversity of natural life.
Children also pick up on many skills and make observations based on how others around them behave. Being mindful of the wildlife around you, teaching your kids to ask for permission before petting someone’s pet, showing curiosity about different species, and asking them about their favorite creatures can all contribute to the development of a healthy and positive relationship with animals.
Animals foster a sense of responsibility along with tons of excitement and adventure. Interacting with them positively impacts children’s development, and can lead to creation of core memories that may inspire their lives in unique ways. Designed to take into account preschoolers’ development goals and their interest in animals, learning kits from Skillmatics maintain the link between learning and play, ensuring lots of growth and good times with animal themes!