RSPCA’s vision is to provide engaging Australian Curriculum aligned resources for schools. These 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.
RSPCA’s education programme is designed to help teachers integrate Animal Welfare Education into their classroom programme, whilst offering tools and strategies to enhance existing classroom teaching and learning, and meet Australian Curriculum expectations in all learning areas. This approach is consistent with the Australian Curriculum vision of young people being entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning programs drawn from a challenging curriculum that addresses their individual learning needs.
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 well being.
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 toward humans.
RSPCA’s education programme promotes essential character-building qualities such as empathy, kindness, respect for others and personal responsibility as well as engaging students’ in core curriculum subject 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.
RSPCA’s education materials were designed to integrate into the Australian Curriculum and to be taught by experienced teachers. RSPCA’s education materials focus on a variety of animal welfare concepts and provide teachers with the tools to incorporate these topics into their daily classroom programme. The learning experiences allow students to gain knowledge and understanding of animals through 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. RSPCA’s education materials have been piloted by classroom teachers throughout South Australia. This approach has enabled us to make informed, evidence based decisions throughout our programme’s development.
The ultimate learning experience occurs when home and school work in partnership - when teaching and learning is supported, reinforced and encouraged at home, connections are more easily made and positive changes can occur.
There is a lot of advice and research out there that suggest family pets are 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. Click on the content below to learn more.
Children will learn a lot through watching, listening, thinking and copying what their parents and caregivers do. So naturally, if a child is consistently exposed to responsible 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 will 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 all alone in a small cage in the backyard, a child exposed to this practice will learn to believe that it’s ok to disregard the needs of others rather than have consideration for them.
Tip for Parents/Caregivers
When children see parents making an effort to care for those who cannot care for themselves, they learn that this is the proper way to behave. Model responsible pet ownership for your children so that they will learn that animals are sentient beings with their own wants and needs. Show your children that pets are not toys or objects for them to use and then disregard when the novelty has worn off. Modelling this type of empathy and compassion will give your children the ability to consider the thoughts and feelings of others and act accordingly.
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.
Tip for Parents/Caregivers
Pay close attention to how your child interacts with family pets and/or other animals they meet. If you ever see inappropriate or cruel behaviour, instantly and consistently stop this and instead, promote and encourage positive behaviour.
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 pretend 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 block buster movies. It’s 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 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 pets don’t 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 can’t do them any physical harm, but remember numerous studies have shown that the way people treat animals is closely related to the way they treat people.
Tip for Parents/Caregivers
Discourage your children from chasing, grabbing, pulling or poking animals. A child who holds onto a struggling pet is not learning to consider and respect the needs of other living beings. Instead, encourage pro-social behaviours such as sharing, compromise and cooperation.
When positive, empathetic interactions are encouraged and modelled by adults; children will 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 pets can help children extend care to other human beings.
Tip for Parents/Caregivers
Redirect young children to more positive behaviour during their first interactions with animals – this plants the seeds of empathy and compassion. Young children can be shown and encouraged to engage the family dog in a mutually enjoyable activity such as fetching a ball, instead of grabbing and climbing on top of him for a “horsey ride”. Rather than chasing the cat and making her run away and hide, children can learn that it’s more fun to sit still and encourage her to come closer by calling her with a treat or toy for her to play with, followed by a gentle pat or rub around the chin.
Positive child-animal relationships can develop empathy, generosity, compassion, helpfulness, care and responsibility. Skills that we believe most parents would want their child to have, and society wishes of all its citizens.