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SPCA's educational resources are designed to encourage exploration and development of knowledge, skills, and understandings needed to create feelings of empathy, compassion, respect and justice for the lives of all living things.
SPCA’s Education Programme is designed to help kaiako integrate animal welfare education into their early learning setting or classroom programme, and to support parents and whānau to continue this learning within the home.
The resources offer tools and strategies to enhance existing teaching and learning, and achieve the principles, strands and goals of Te Whāriki and fulfil the New Zealand Curriculum achievement objectives in all learning areas. This approach is consistent with the vision of Te Whāriki and the New Zealand Curriculum of young people as competent, creative, energetic, enterprising young people who are healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge they are active participants in and contribute to the future wellbeing of Aotearoa (not passive recipients of knowledge).
Animal welfare education is about the fostering of respect, understanding, compassion and responsibility towards animals. It is an exploration of how we share the world with other living beings and the responsibilities we have in ensuring their wellbeing.
Given the prevalence of violence in society today, it is more crucial than ever to instill compassion, empathy and tolerance in young people. Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between violent acts towards animals and people. Additionally, research in animal welfare education suggests that children’s compassion toward animals is related to their empathy towards humans.
SPCA’s Education Programme promotes essential character-building qualities such as empathy, kindness, respect for others and personal responsibility as well as engaging learners in core curriculum learning through a real-life meaningful context. As children develop empathy (the ability to assume the feelings and perspective of other humans and animals), they begin to understand concepts such as respect, cooperation, sharing, fairness and patience.
SPCA’s Resources for Early Learning were designed to be intergrated into Te Whāriki, New Zealand's Early Childhood Curriculum, by experienced New Zealand trained kaiako. The resources focus on a variety of animal welfare concepts and provide kaiako with the tools to incorporate these topics into their early learning setting.
The learning experiences allow learners to gain knowledge and understanding of animals through diverse teaching and learning experiences including provocations and interactive, project based learning. Great importance is placed on the inquiry process and critical thinking as well as developing leadership skills to put compassion into action.
SPCA’s Education Programme consists of three interlinked components that encourage teachers, children, parents and the community to think, learn and act together to achieve positive, empathetic and compassionate outcomes for human and non-human members of society.
The first component is SPCA’s Teachers’ Portal:www.spca.nz/teachers
Free online resources designed for early childhood educators and classroom teachers of Years 1-9 that provide real-life, meaningful contexts for teaching and learning.
The second component is SPCA’s Kids’ Portal: www.spca.nz/kids
A fun, interactive and engaging website for children to learn about animals and animal care. On the Kids’ Portal, children can:
The third component is SPCA’s Instructional Readers or Learn-to-Read Storybooks: www.spca.nz/storybooks
Each original story teaches core animal care and wellbeing lessons through engaging, emotive and thought-provoking stories, whilst increasing children’s reading mileage and supporting the development of their reading skills and strategies.
Additional supporting resource - SPCA’s Targeted Interventions Portal: www.spcatargetedinterventions.nz
Some children are more at risk than others in engaging in intentional animal abuse. These young people may require more intensive, targeted interventions, in addition to the education they receive from the components above. SPCA developed practice resources to support professionals working with children and young people in need of experiences that build empathy, compassion and prosocial behaviours towards.
Children learn best through meaningful, on-going experiences that are shared and encouraged between the home, school or education setting, and within their wider whānau and community.
This is why SPCA developed a diverse range of free, online education resources, to ensure every young learner, parent or guardian, and New Zealand teacher can access resources that encourage children’s exploration and the development of knowledge, skills, and understandings needed to create feelings of empathy, compassion, respect and justice for the lives of all living things.
There is a lot of advice and research out there that suggests having a companion animal is a great way to teach children compassion and responsibility. However, the presence of animals in a home alone does not automatically make children more empathetic. Our SPCA’s Kids Portal is a wonderful resource for parents and whānau to be able to support their children’s learning journey.
Children learn a lot through watching, listening, thinking and copying what their parents and guardians do. So naturally, if a child is consistently exposed to responsible animal guardianship (pet ownership) practice and empathetic treatment of living things, it is highly likely that child will begin to practice those same behaviours. These behaviours are likely to become instinctive and that child’s “norm”.
Unfortunately the same can be said when a child is regularly exposed to irresponsible and undesirable animal interactions.
The way that animals are treated by a family can strongly influence whether or not the children within the home learn to treat living beings with dignity and respect. For example, if a family’s dog is left chained in the backyard all day, every day with no shelter or exercise, or a rabbit is kept alone in a small cage in the backyard, a child exposed to this practice may learn to believe that it is ok to disregard the needs of others, rather than have consideration for them.
From a very young age, most children are surrounded by animals in some shape or form. Many children have animal themed clothing, bedding, toys and stuffed animals. We often see young children cuddling, naming, talking to, and playing with their animal toys. Walking into most early childhood centres, you will witness children learning their alphabet and practising their counting with animal pictures and library corner shelves filled with animal themed picture books.
Throughout primary and intermediate school, outings with friends, family or class groups will often include visiting animals at the zoo, birds in a park, and fish in an aquarium or fishpond. Children will watch animals on television and starring in blockbuster movies. It is therefore not surprising that from an early age, children have a fascination with all kinds of furry friends. With a fascination of animals, children usually want to interact with them, eager to hug and squeeze them.
Though this is often a child’s way of expressing affection, unfortunately this kind of attention is often less than empathetic since the needs of the animals are being disregarded. Most animals do not enjoy being chased, grabbed or pulled by young children who want to cuddle with them. It might seem harmless for small children to poke and prod animals, since they really cannot do them any major physical harm, but remember numerous studies have shown that the way people treat animals is closely related to the way they treat people.
When positive, empathetic interactions are encouraged and modelled by adults, children begin to better understand and identify with the animal’s emotions and learn how to take care and responsibility for the animal. Actively helping in the caring of family companion animals (pets) can help children extend care to other human beings.
Research studies have shown that a child’s emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of future social and occupational success than traditional I.Q. scores. As they grow up, children who have learned empathy and compassion are more likely to become trustworthy friends, valued co-workers, and respected members of their community.
For more ideas, view our infographic - ‘Top tips to help children build good relationships with animals – How to foster empathy, kindness and responsibility’