In an e-newsletter that I periodically receive from Community Playthings, I read an article that was excerpted from the book Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood. The content of this article was incredibly sweet; but so much more than that, it was informative and enlightening. I will attempt to summarize the article, but really encourage you to seek out the actual article and read every word.
Animals can help children develop sensitivity to others. They can offer comfort, and lend an ear for secrets and feelings that children may not share with adults. In addition to these very human qualities, through curiosity, animals may encourage children to explore and gain a better understanding of the world around them.
How wonderful would it be to express out loud your deepest darkest secrets, and know that there is absolutely no judgement, nor will these secrets be shared with another? Well, if you have a pet, you have that opportunity. As freeing as that would be for an adult, that feeling is multiplied times over by a child. Speaking to animals offers a child an opportunity to express feelings, void of concerns of correctness, or proper pronunciation and grammar. Animals listen without question, without demand. They hear what a child has to say and do not ask for further explanation. The family dog does not ask for a reason, justification, an apology — he just listens. A pet will never laugh, be dismissive, or minimize the feelings a child is sharing.
Pets in a home can represent safety and security. They are familiar, safe to talk to, and most importantly, they are a source of comfort and love. The family pet offers a child an opportunity to process feelings. Take for example, the fear of a thunder storm. This natural phenomenon may be a trigger for stress to both a child and the family pet. Often times, the child will comfort the pet and as a result, comfort themselves. Efforts will be in place to keep the pet comfortable and free of fear where as a child will be able to work past his own stress or fear.
Whatever form a child’s love for animals takes, it remains a universal concept that animals are very special to children. Children love to tell stories about their pets, animals they have seen in the wild, visits to the zoo, a farm… A petting zoo is a prime example of the strong connection between a child and an animal — particularly, a baby animal. Children do not analyze why they love animals. Most simply love animals without question.
Fear of animals is often fostered by feelings the primary adult in a child’s life displays when interacting with nature. Usually, if an adult displays fear of an insect, the child will eventually react in the same way. Now, an initial curiosity may be replaced with fear. Naturally, there are many living creatures in nature that need to be viewed as possible threats; but the approach should always be with an explanation and a healthy way of interacting with such animal that results in harm to neither child nor animal.
In the spring, YWCA Child Care Solutions will be offering a Growing Up WILD workshop. This is an early childhood education program that builds on children’s sense of wonder about nature and invites them to explore wildlife and the world around them. Through a wide range of activities and experiences, Growing Up WILD provides an early foundation for developing positive impressions about the natural world and lifelong social and academic skills. For more information regarding date, time and cost, please contact Nancy at 815-484-9442 ext. 211.