Updated: Aug 31
Many primary age children naturally have a keen interest in animals; for me, it started with
monkeys and dolphins. I chose them for school projects and read all about them in my spare
time - it even briefly influenced my career choice (monkey poo was a big no-no to 8-year-old
Sarah). As I got older, my interest grew; almost everything about the natural world fascinated
me and still does today!
At ZooLab, we see first-hand the benefits learning about and experiencing animals brings to
the development of primary children in classroom and home settings. Here are a few of the
advantages that our team has witnessed.
There is a reason why animals are a large part of the Science national curriculum. Learning
about other species helps us understand more about ourselves as humans and the world we
live in. It teaches us about our similarities and differences to the rest of our animal cohorts -
our body structure might be different, but we have the same basic needs for survival. They
help us to learn about where we have come from and how we as a species adapted,
evolved, and inherited to survive.
We find that animal encounters help provide a memorable experience, particularly when
learning about science. Animals help pupils get close to many curricular topics, providing a
great learning hook to discover more. It stimulates pupil curiosity and encourages questions
while providing a foundation for future knowledge.
Did you know that we share Earth with an estimated 5.3 million - 1 trillion different species? Our planet is so diverse that it makes it impossible to give an exact amount - who knows what is left to be discovered!
It is that endless possibility that keeps us fascinated! If your pupils are anything like us, they
will love uncovering the diversity of our planet and all that lives there - from the depths of the Rainforest to the unforgiving polar regions. Learning about animal habitats is a great opening for pupils to explore different countries and continents.
The pupils of today are the conservationists of tomorrow! Primary school pupils are more
environmentally conscious and curious about climate change than we ever were growing
up. While teaching younger children about such a complex issue can seem daunting, a fantastic first step is to help instil an interest in nature and wildlife. Experiencing the great outdoors through bug hunts, nature walks, pond dipping or creating and monitoring a nature garden in the school grounds can help foster an early appreciation in protecting natural habitats (Clinton Foundation, 2015).
Exposing children to the environment and teaching them about animals that live there helps
children understand the importance of maintaining ecosystems to ensure that habitats have
everything their inhabitants need to survive. Animals help us explore sustainability and what
we can do to help reduce the effects of climate change. It encourages pupils to care about
the bigger picture and can inspire behaviour change and citizenship.
Interaction with animals helps children develop interpersonal skills, encourage adherence to
safety protocols and improve social conduct, especially as animals directly respond to
behaviour (Poleshuck, 1997). We find that animals within the classroom can facilitate
discussion between children and teachers, improve pupil self-confidence, language skills
and make for a fantastic writing exercise.
Having an animal to interact with can help children struggling with their schoolwork or home
life, including children on the autistic spectrum. Animals increase the number of positive
social interactions (Grigore and Bazgan, 2017). We often hear comments from teachers
(more so in SEN settings) that they have never seen pupils as engaged, calm or gentle as
when communicating with animals.
Animals Help Us Become Better Humans
Learning and interacting with animals from a young age helps us exhibit a range of positive
traits including empathy, respect, responsibility, and stewardship.
Daly and Morton found that pupils who have strong attachments to their pets measure higher empathy and social skills. This could largely be attributed to the fact
that animals are non-judgemental - they allow children to practice relationships and respond
to our emotions (Sack, 2014). Children learn to be patient and care for the needs of their
companion while developing key skills that will help throughout their lives.