Let’s start with a story that taught me many lessons…
We (my sister Jenny and I) had multiple hamsters when we were little.
We had a particular hamster called Kevin. One night he escaped from his cage and after weeks of searching he was nowhere to be found.
We’d lost hamsters before and found them again scurrying around our bedroom or downstairs after they’d been on what I presume was quite the adventure!
However, we called it a day and gave up. We went to the pet shop and got a new hamster, Perry. Shortly after, we heard a scuttling in the walls of our basement where we were playing…
You guessed it, Kevin was back!
After some TLC such as food, water and getting resettled into his cage, we introduced him to Perry, his replacement (oops!).
What we didn’t realise was that Kevin had been sexed wrong in the pet shop and was in fact a girl (she raised her tail showing she was ready to mate).
Our first priority was her name, obviously, she couldn’t be called Kevin, so she got renamed Kevinita, courtesy of Jenny.
My dad suggested breeding them, we loved this idea! We researched it together, set up the cage and they did the deed… twice!
We cared for kevinita through her pregnancy and she had eight tiny babies.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that at this moment in time my brother, Tom, had a snake and two scorpions as pets…
Before the birth my Dad explained to us the circle of life (sing it!) and that in a snakes natural habitat it would have eaten rodents and other animals to survive.
We had agreed, when the time came, Tom could take one of the baby hamsters and feed it to his snake, and so we did…
When the babies were born we all went up to Tom’s room and watched him drop the newborn hamster in the snakes cage.
The snake eyed and pounced on his prey. Me and Jenny were all “eww” and “Oh my god!”
Tom thought it was “awesome” and Dad said “that’s life; you do the same when you eat meat, just indirectly”.
True. A valuable life lesson.
I made a special book with profiles on each of the remaining babies. I wrote their name, personality and drew a picture (using my proud collection of gel pens) for each.
We ended up keeping two (salt and pepper were their names, I think) and we took the rest to an independent pet shop because to quote my dad again…
“don’t you think it’d be nice for other kids to have them and be able to play with them rather than you have them all?”
Such a wise man.
Without further ado, here are 5 benefits of children interacting with animals:
#1 – Death
Learning about death isn’t easy at any point in life or through any means.
It’s therefore important to try and make it as easy to deal with as possible, if possible.
It’s also important to allow children to grieve in their own way and be there to comfort them if needed.
I’m one of many who grew up with animals in their home. We had a dog called ‘specks’ from before I was born.
When I was four I remember she started to poo in the house. My mum and dad said she had become ill and we needed to take her to be put to sleep.
They explained that because she was so old and she was in pain (which wasn’t going to end), it was kinder to let her die peacefully in her sleep rather than selfishly make her live in pain because we were scared to say goodbye.
This situation is ideal when it comes to children learning about death because as the adult you can explain why the animal is going to die and the child knows when it is going to happen.
In reality we can’t foresee when a pet or family member is going to die or how it will happen.
The advantage of dealing with this subject with a pet is that some animals don’t live very long and so you can guarantee that the child will have to deal with their loss and grieve within the next few years or months.
This sounds awful right?
Why would you purposely want to upset a child?
This experience is one that they will be forced to deal with sooner or later.
If you are there to comfort them and listen to their unanswerable questions, they will build resilience and begin the life long journey of understanding this harsh fact of life.
You can also use this as a bonding opportunity. Emotional support will help children to feel safe.
For more information about dealing with the subject of death with children, I recommend “Ask a mortician” on YouTube. She is funny, interesting and deals with this subject (in relation to children) in a couple of her videos.
You can check her out here:
You’ll also find that the opportunity to talk about death is all around.
#2 – Responsibility
I’m a big believer in encouraging independence and free choice for children, but this isn’t always possible.
You wouldn’t be doing them any favours if you let them stay up until 3am, eating sweets and turning up late for school.
Most aspects of a child’s life are dictated by adults; what time they sleep, eat, go to school…
Even what clothes they wear and their hair cut.
A pet can give children a sense of responsibility which is greater than “can you set the table for me, please?”.
If a child has a pet, they’ll begin to understand that their actions can directly influence the life of another creature.
Knowing the animal they have is completely reliant on them to meet their basic needs will allow children to develop their independence and emotional development.
In the same way you do for their needs, they now have the opportunity to experiment with this themselves, in a controlled environment.
Choosing an appropriate animal and experiencing the joy with them, you can empower children while also having your own bonding experience with them.
Through you, they will also learn compassion.
If children are shown and witness compassion they are more likely to show the same treatment to others.
It is therefore important to model the compassion you expect them to show animals.
#3 – Education
You don’t have to own a pet and have it in your home for children to be surrounded by animals.
Step into your garden, the street or beach. Animals are everywhere.
Pick them up, research them; Ask questions: What do they eat? Where and when do they sleep? How many varieties of their species are there? What sounds do they make? Read books. Draw pictures. Go to the zoo. What animals are native to our country? What animals aren’t and why?
When I was about nine years old my mum bought us a hedgehog house.
We loved it!
We had seen a hedgehog at the bottom of our garden before and so we thought giving it a house was lovely.
As if all other hedgehogs were homeless and roaming the streets.
We would be able to see and play with it!
My mum had told us not to touch it and that it was probably scared of us, because to him we were like giants.
But we couldn’t resist.
When we found a hedgehog inside the special house we had built and positioned, we had to gently touch it, and guess what…
They’re really spikey!
I remember being fascinated and thinking their spikes were so much thicker and stronger than I imagined.
In books and from afar they look kind of soft, and they’re definitely not!
It squeezed itself up into a ball and reminded me of when I touched snails and they would hide inside their shell for protection.
These are the play experiences that children remember; it was just me and my sister at the bottom of our garden with our new temporary hedgehog friend.
My mum had enabled the play by remembering that we had seen a hedgehog and bought the house
(she probably saw it on sale).
Other than that, no adult interaction was needed. We were educating ourselves through our own play and unrestricted curiosity.
The number of species of animal is vast.
There is bound to be one that sparks the interest of your child, whether it’s because they’re fascinating, gross, cute, funny or a combination.
By opening this door of many possibilities to children, they could find the thing they’re most passionate about.
My dad grew up fascinated by animals and it wasn’t until he reached high school that he found his love of art and changed his career path.
The exact opposite can be said for my brother, he’s fantastic at art and thought that was his path until…high school, and he decided that he wanted to pursue a career working with animals.
They’re both still fascinated, talented and knowledgeable in both art and animals to this day but without the opportunities and encouragement Tom had he may not have found his passion.
#4 – Exercise
This benefit is quite self-explanatory.
If a child has a dog which needs to be walked twice a day…
(or volunteers at a dog rescue home and walks the dogs there)
…they are going to get exercise that they potentially wouldn’t have had otherwise.
If a child has a routine that centres on physical activity, and therefore physical play, they will reap many benefits!
Don’t worry; children can also get exercise without a dog!
Go outside and find mini beasts, look for different birds, walk around the park, see how many animals you can find; how many species, colours, sounds.
Lemon lime adventures has an ‘animal walks’ exercise which is similar to yoga.
You can check it out here: https://lemonlimeadventures.com/animal-walks-sensory-diet
#5 – Companionship
A pet is a valuable way of tackling loneliness in everyone…
but today we are focusing on children…
I believe that all children need time to play alone, I have a post on this coming your way!
However children, like adults, can feel lonely. This is more obvious although not limited to children who don’t have siblings…
Animals are beneficial for companionship for children with and without siblings.
Some would argue that because animals can’t speak they can’t change the direction of a child’s play.
This may mean children can play with animals and still get the full benefits of solo play.
When I was 6-9 years old I used to pretend that I had a dog, I would use two soft toy dogs.
I would pretend to take them for a walk, feed them and speak to them.
Having a dog to tell my deepest secrets was all I could think about…
Which at 7 is either I stole a chocolate bar from the cupboard, a boy chased me in the playground or someone was bullying me again.
The security of getting these things off my chest and knowing that it couldn’t be told another soul meant that we would have a bond like no other.
The lack of judgement and believing that they would understand exactly what I was going through, regardless of the reality, was remarkable to me.
Reflecting on this has made me realise I was, in my own way, showing that I wanted companionship that can only be found in an animal.
I then created this experience for myself, which is one of the great benefits of play.
I can hear you thinking “so you don’t need to buy children pets just get them a toy dog and they’ll do the rest themselves?”
That’s one way to look at it…
But that would mean disregarding the other priceless benefits of caring for and bonding with animals…
and through that, bonding with people.
I believe that along with these 5 benefits there are many more.
For example, children and adults can feel safe, have a new appreciation of life and the world they live in via their interactions with animals.
We can marvel at how miraculous it is, with its different environments, plants and creatures.
This isn’t just our world.
Through learning about animals and taking care of them, you will naturally take care of the planet.
If you like animals (and I doubt you would have made it this far if you didn’t) you know that there is a joy you have when you are around them that is precious.
Watching them grow, teaching them tricks, taking care of them, hugs and kisses. This is why #1 is so difficult; it really is like losing a friend.
But there’s no question about it…the joy is well worth the grief.
Please keep in mind that I am speaking as a British person and there are very limited dangerous animals in our country. If you are from a country with dangerous animals around please be cautious!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please share it with like-minded people and ask any questions you may have in the comments.
Did you have pets or animals around you as a child?
(Let’s hear some funny stories!)
Wrap it up!
This weekend I went to Geoje Island for the first time!
It was cloudy and raining on and off but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of us playing in the sea!
I sculpted a mermaids tail in the sand (which I then tripped over because I made it too close to our table, haha)
The island its self is beautiful!
The following day the weather showed us just how magical it is!
So much nature, so much green and lots of animals flying about!
How did you play today?