The dramatic seasons of the Midwest invite children to experience nature through each of their growing senses. The changes in temperature, precipitation, plant and animal life cycles and agriculture give children of any age an opportunity to experience nature and science. Establishing early interests in the outside world and in their inside scenery is the beginning of a lifetime of appreciation, curiosity, respect, and concern for our environment. With this, the unpredictability of Mother Nature can pose a challenge to providers as they search to meet the children’s growing needs of nature and science experiences.
Fortunately, incorporating a pet into your program can easily create or recreate these experiences indoors and reflect your own program philosophies and individuality. Center, Preschool, and Family providers can make choices based on facility type and size, location, allowance by governing boards and, most importantly, personal preference and individual passions.
More commonly (but not exclusively) for in home daycares than centers, providers can involve animals in their businesses. With the appropriate safety measures and by following specifications laid out by DCFS, including a pet in your program can be a pre-existing and wonderful way to provide interactions with living things. Tender Beginnings Learning Center, a local Rockford Center, is home to a variety of animals. The owner and director, Venessa Ross-Powell feels it is very important to have animals as part of her program to help each child develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. She believes that animals help children develop into compassionate, caring, responsible and self-confident adults.
“Children learn how to care for living creatures. They learn that animals need to be fed, their cages need to be kept clean, and they need to be loved. They learn responsibility by helping take care of animals. They can help with feeding and caring for the animals. They learn empathy if an animal gets hurt or is not feeling well.” At Tender Beginnings the children get to help care for the animals. They are taught how to touch, hold and be gentle with the animals. The children learn about the life cycles of animals. They, also, learn how to deal with loss and the emotions that come with losing something or someone you love.
”It made the children more cooperative and sharing,” said Dr. Sue Doescher, a psychologist involved in the study. ”Having a pet improves children’s role-taking skills because they have to put themselves in the pet’s position and try to feel how the pet feels. And that transfers to how other kids feel.”(HEALTH; Children and Their Pets: Unexpected Psychological Benefits, The New York Times)
There are some challenges that arise from having animals as part of a program. Children have allergies, pre-existing fears or no experience with animals. Venessa feels educating the parents on the benefits of having animals has been helpful. “A few parents think that their children cannot be around animals because they have allergies. For some children this is true, but for many children they actually build up immunities to the allergens.” She has also seen firsthand the wonders a pet can do for a child with special needs. “[The animals] can comfort them, help them to feel like they are a part of the group and be an ear to listen.” Animals can be very comforting to children when they are feeling angry, sad, happy or excited, providing an experience with nature that cannot be matched.
While the factual and therapeutic benefits of the human-animal bond are amazing, sometimes for a child, snuggling with a furry creature in the middle of their day, is just the best thing about being a child.
To learn more about regulations on animals in a licensed daycare setting, please refer to your DCFS representative.
Further reading: HEALTH; Children and Their Pets: Unexpected Psychological Benefits, (The New York Times)