Britain, renowned for its love of animals, showers nearly £10 million a year on our beloved pets, a testament to our nation's deep affinity for furry (and not furry!) companions. A staggering 57% of households in the UK welcome creatures as pets into their homes, adding up to a whopping 38 million pets nationwide. The joy and happiness they bring resonate in the hearts of children and families across the country.
The wonders of having pets extend far beyond companionship, with numerous documented benefits. Imagine the possibilities for the children in your care as you advocate for the magic of pet ownership. Whether you encourage your little ones' families and friends to embrace the joy of pets or contemplate bringing some into your setting, you're not just fostering relationships with animals – you're unlocking a world of transformation for the early years.
The Benefits Of Pets
Some of the benefits for children include:
Immune Systems And Educational Attendance
Studies suggest that children who keep pets at home have stronger immune systems and show higher attendance rates at school. In some studies, children who have pets at home were less likely to develop allergies and asthma.
Comfort And Support
Pets can give physical and emotional support when we are feeling at our lowest – many people believe they intrinsically know when we are going through a bad time and can recognise this. They can help children develop empathy and understanding about non-verbal communication, and children can learn to self-regulate their own emotions by caring for pets.
Loyalty And Friendship
Pets can make the most loyal friends; they never judge you and will listen to your problems for hours on end.
Pets Reduce Anxiety And Improved Mental Health
Pet ownership has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in children, reduce stress and improve symptoms of PTSD. Some charities use animals such as horses and dogs as therapy to help improve mental health in children.
Pets can help teach people about the life cycle and how to care for other sentient beings. They can also be the first occasion that children experience loss and grief but if this is the case, children will need careful support to guide them through the loss of a beloved pet.
Links To Natural Science
Animals can help teach about the natural world, different environments, and habitats, and be an introduction to the natural sciences.
Pets Teach Children How To Nurture
Learning how to care for a pet helps children understand responsibility, the needs of others, and the role we all have in creating a compassionate world where everyone can thrive.
Self-discipline And The Value Of Routine
Looking after a pet can also help children learn about self-discipline because they may have to feed the pet or clean its cage at various times. This will depend on the age of the children involved as adults will need to teach and oversee the processes to ensure the safety of the pets and the children.
Research from Proresky et al made an association between the bond that children have with their pets and improved cognitive development. It has also been suggested that owning a pet can help facilitate language acquisition and enhance children’s verbal skills.
How To Introduce Pets Into Your Setting
If you want to introduce a pet or pets into your setting, then it must be done properly because it is not without risk. However, with careful planning, governor/staff and parent buy-in, and robust risk assessments, the benefits will far outweigh any potential disadvantages.
Some of the things that you might need to consider include:
- Suitability of the pet for the children/staff you have – some pets need to be fed live food for example, or can cause allergies
- Space – where will the pet be housed and do you have a suitable place?
- Budget – how much will it cost to buy the pet, its housing, food and pay for any vet bills?
- Will the pet exacerbate any allergies that children or staff members have?
- Will the pet respond well to being handled or does it need to get used to it gradually?
- Who will care for the pet at weekends and during school holidays?
- What ongoing care will it need? – i.e. injections, grooming, immunisations
- Who will keep the cage/tank clean?
- Who will be allowed to feed or handle the pet?
- Do you have any staff with expert knowledge of how to look after the pet
You will need to have written policies and procedures that all staff, parents/carers and children understand. In addition, you may need insurance in place so make sure you investigate this angle too before introducing any pet into the setting.
Suitable Pets For Children
There is no one ideal pet for children since all children are different and pets come in all shapes and sizes, but here is a list of some which are fairly easy to look after and not too expensive either for a family or a setting to keep. Some of them are more suited to being looked after by a family such as a dog or a cat, and some make excellent choices for a school or an early years setting such as fish or insects.
- Stick insects/snails
- Guinea pigs
- Pygmy goats
Alternatives To Keeping Pets
It may not be practical for all settings to keep pets, either due to allergies, confines of space or money. However, all is not lost, and you can still encourage the children to be interested in caring for animals by adopting animals from a zoo or a charity. Many zoos, animal sanctuaries and charities run schemes to adopt animals and these are usually inexpensive but you can receive photographs, stories and updates about their lives that you can share with your children. You can adopt everything from a donkey to an orangutan and you could even adopt more than one animal (budget willing) and have your own special ‘animal corner’.
Some charities offer regular or one-off sessions with therapy animals such as dogs who are specially trained to work with, and comfort children. This could be an option for some children who may respond well to animals or need therapeutic support. Useful link.
Don’t forget too that you can opt for visits to farms, animal sanctuaries and zoos which often have animal handling experiences for young children to get involved with.
Whatever you do, we’d love to hear your stories and see your pictures of your children and your pets so send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.