#5 Benefits Of Children Interacting With Animals

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.

Tom now has this handsome fellow!
Sorry for not having any hamster picture to hand!

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUpMPAiyHkI

You’ll also find that the opportunity to talk about death is all around.

These two frogs were happily trying to make babies one day and the next day I found them like this.

#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.

Korea is full of interesting bugs!

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.

Me and my monkey friend in Malaysia!

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

Pops and pad chillin’ after a playful afternoon!

#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.

Jenny and the late and great Pebble!

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.

Mummy feeding her kittens in Haman, Korea!

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!

Me and Lyn, Jenny’s snake!

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?

Adults Need To Play Too!

Play is everything, we all do it, all the time!

This concept came to me from my Dad, an artist, who once told me “everything is art”. And it is… If you choose to see it that way, which I do!

I believe art is play, they are the same thing.

Playworkers define play as “Freely chosen, personally driven and intrinsically motivated.” – PlayScotland

Art is defined as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” – Webster’s Dictionary, 2018

Play and art are creative outlets which can be executed using different mediums and tools. I think it’s safe to say they would still exist if they weren’t being observed, judged and evaluated.

In fact, I would argue that if you remove observation, judgement and evaluation you have them in their purest forms.

They are a human need.

Children’s play and adults’ play: are they different?

In some ways, yes.

However the reasoning behind it is exactly the same: to enjoy life, learn and develop.

An example of adult play could be gambling.

When you hear the word ‘gambling’ you probably think of a casino in Las Vegas, smart suits and skimpy dresses, with bad hangovers and wasted money.

This is all true. However adults ultimately gamble to fuel adrenaline, you take your chances and see what happens.

Wait for the rush!

Any situation in which you don’t know the outcome but invest anyway is a gamble!

Children do this all the time!

-Can I jump from here to there without falling?

-When I mix two different colours of play dough what colour will it make and will they be mixed forever?

-If I shout at you will you stop playing with me?

Many methods of ‘adult play’… that you would in no way associate with children, can be translated into a child’s world.

Especially when it comes to why the play is taking place.

  • Adults use alcohol to change their mood; children use sugar.
  • Adults play cards against humanity to laugh with friends; children play snap.
  • Adults go to clubs to find companionship; children go to the park.

They’re all fundamentally the same.

When you’re a child you play with sand and you add water.

You see and feel the differences in texture, colour and consistency. You want to do it again and again to see if it happens every time.

It’s like magic.

You can make patterns and shapes, you can manipulate it differently in each form and it’s interesting to touch… just by adding water!

Me playing at Haeundae beach, Korea!

I don’t know about you but I still love going to the beach. I love playing in the sea and in the sand; splashing, digging holes, building sandcastles and sculptures, decorating them with shells.

The only difference between an adult enjoying these activities and a child is that to a child it’s new, they often want to take it further, and test it.

When a child is free to take it further and test it, they’re in a world of their own exploration.

Is there more it can do?

If we add glitter and feathers and paint and glue, what will we get?

A boring adult might answer “a mess, you get a big mess”.

In reality you get a creation, a potion, a medicine, or a stew.

Your imagination is your only limitation.

Why do many adults see play as a diminutive act?

Alas, society flicks its wand and to a certain extent, we all conform. That’s life.

According to western society we have a list of things we need to achieve and if we don’t we’re lacking some part of the big picture.

Before I go into a list of clichés I have to say the world is changing and I don’t believe the following list is guaranteed to make you complete or happy. You can probably tell by how it’s written…

(But I also appreciate the need for stability, money and love which these things can provide.)

How to be a functioning member of society:

  • Decide what you want to do FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, as young as possible. Preferably academic or at least high paid with little risk.
  • Prove you’re a good test taker by getting high grades in school.
  • Get into debt by going to university.
  • Get a job straight out of university and pay back the acquired debt with a job that may or may not have actually required you to have said degree in the first place.
  • Get married – Preferably to the opposite sex.
  • Get in more debt with a mortgage – buy a house.
  • Be the epitome of health.
  • Have children and expect the same conformity from them.
  • When you’re old and useless; sit quietly in a room and don’t make a fuss, until you die and your hard-earned (and taxed) cash – which is now your children’s inheritance – can be taxed yet again.

I could go on, in a never-ending list of contradictions and stereotypes.

That’s just how the world goes ‘round, right?

NO!

The only reason I say NO! so dramatically is that no two people are the same, so this idealised life we’re taught to adhere to isn’t going to make everyone happy.

It could in fact make you miserable and forget what actually makes the world go ‘round: Science.

Just kidding, it’s PLAY, obviously it’s play!

The beauty of play in childhood is that you don’t realise you’re playing because it’s so natural.

I think we need to carry this on as adults more mindfully.

If play is natural then that must mean we are taught to stop playing…

We are told to stop doing something that’s inherent to us as humans, not even as humans, but as living beings; all species play.

Yet, we are the only species to shame it as we age. Why?

If we learn through play yet discourage play after a certain age, in a way, aren’t we discouraging learning?

As an adult I have a different and fresh appreciation of events in my childhood.

I love being with my family and talking about things we did and places we visited ‘back in the day’. 

The conversation would end by saying “I’m gonna do that with my kids, it was so much fun!” or “We should go back and do it again!”

I think we sometimes forget the things we once did could still be happening if we just did them!

How can I hold on to the joy of play in adulthood?

Look back on your childhood and see yourself through their eyes…

Would they like you?

Would they be excited to spend time with you?

You are still that person – you’ve just had more experiences. Let your experiences shape you for the better, without losing your inquisitive love of life.

I have another list of clichés for you. A few do’s and don’ts for embracing the joy of play:

  • Embrace natural pleasures. Just being outside could fill you with joy; fresh air, sunshine, birds singing, trees that need climbing and stones to be skimmed.
  • Make time to do nothing. Do what you enjoy, what you feel like. Take time away from ‘the man’ (this term is used to describe society’s harsh demands and is in no way sexist… men are lovely).
  • Be more spontaneous. Life is often very structured and there is an appointed time for everything. Once in a while just say “let’s go on a drive” or “let’s go to the park” – and actually go. Have an adventure!
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself. You will enjoy life so much more. Just trust me. I make fun of myself way more than anyone else. Some people test that statistic, but I win every time and in more ways than one because I’m happy, I know and embrace my flaws.
  • Don’t spend time thinking about other people. By this I mean don’t spend your time thinking about what other people are thinking about you or what they want of you. Say it with an attitude: you do you, flaws and all. Those that love you will love you because of those things or regardless of them.
  • Find your passion! Just keep trying different things that seem cool until you get that light-bulb-moment of… ‘Ah, ok, yeah…this is it’. You might never find it and that’s fine. Just learn as much as you can.

These things can be hard to achieve, but it’s possible!

What’s more important to you:

-Being a genuinely happy person or having a million likes on Instagram?

-Having a happy and healthy child or what the neighbour thinks about your parenting?

You could have it all, but you still have to prioritise and work on what’s important to you.

Some may say adults don’t need to play because they’ve learned everything they need to learn through play.

False.

We are constantly learning and therefore playing!

Play is anything you do for fun, anything you do because you’re fascinated or curious.

Why is it that if you see two women in their mid 40’s sitting in a café chatting, they’re having a catch up, but if you saw two 8-year-old girls doing the same thing they’re playing?

It’s your own perception of what is taking place, try to see it for what it is.

Are the two older women playing or the two young girls having a catch up?

Free tip: You could get home from work and watch a few hours of TV… OR you could go to a class and learn something new. Take a drive to a place with no one around and watch the sky change. Go bowling with your friends or to a new restaurant for dinner or simply take a walk.

The list is endless.

As I said at the beginning, I believe that “we all do it, all the time” (we play).

I think it’s the word itself some people have a problem with rather than the act.

Which makes sense…

The definitions of words as broad as play or art are perceived differently person-to-person and that’s ok… as long as you’re aware of your biases.

I am biased because I love to play, I also love learning about play and the many different aspects of it (risk, psychology, health, disability and social interaction – just to name a few).

So, I’ve set up camp in my bias bubble, but it’s transparent and I invite you to come and share your biases and we can learn and understand each other.

Wrap it up!

Play is just as apparent and complex in adults as it is in children. It’s just that adults are (generally speaking) less open minded and have lots of opinions, which combined with a ‘my way or the high way’ attitude is a quick way to end a potentially great conversation.

If you don’t take yourself too seriously and unwind, you will be happier, less stressed and free to play!

As my sister would say “get over yourself”!

Do what makes you happy, learn as much as you can, listen to other peoples stories and share your own!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post.

Please share it with like-minded people and ask any questions you may have in the comments, let me know what you think.

Me in my happy place!

Yesterday I went to ‘Ilbung-sa’, which is a temple in my town, Uriyeong, and my favourite place to go in korea.

I saw beautiful lilly pads, architecture, paintings and people showing their respects.

The art work is incredible, the statues and wood work are all carved and painted my hand.

It blows my mind every time I go!

I like to lie down on the floor of my favourite temple and marvel at the intricate design of the ceiling and the stories it tells.

I also saw a group of monks perform a ceremony for the people there. The drums and chanting were calming and surreal.

How did you play today?