Animals are lovely. We keep them as pets and pay large amounts of our hard earned cash to go to zoos and stare at them through bars that keep us from getting mauled. We laugh instead of cry when monkeys jump on our cars and start tearing off the windscreen wipers with a wanton disregard.
But when you wander around the zoo more often than not you are being pulled around by a child that is so excited they are having trouble keeping it all in. They love animals even more than we do but why is this and how can interaction with animals help our children develop?
First of all why. We all have an inbuilt system where we are attracted to cute cuddly things. This helps us to care for our children and form a bond with them. A good example of how we prefer younger cuter animals comes from a recent study performed by Borgi and Cirulli (2013).
For this study young children between the ages of 3 and 6 were shown pictures of cats and kittens as well as dogs and puppies and they were asked to rate which one they preferred. The results showed that they had a strong preference for the kittens over the cats because of their infantile features but with regards to dogs they preferred the adult dogs features. Just as a control however they showed the children pictures of teddy bears and found that they overwhelmingly liked the teddy bears with infantile features.
Also how can animals help children develop? Animals can be an outlet for everyone not just children. I’m sure if you have a pet you have found yourself talking to them about your problems and it can be the same for children as well.
When you are looking after a pet you have to show it caring behaviours. You have to feed it, show it affection and make sure it is generally well cared for and these behaviours can then easily transfer onto other humans.
An interesting study that supports this was performed by O’Haire et al (2013). For this study animals, namely guinea pigs, were placed in the classroom of children aged 4 to 12 for an 8 week period.
The children were responsible for caring for and looking after the animals during that time and after the study both parents and teachers rated the children as having an increase in social skills as well as a decrease in poor behaviours in the classroom. While there was no improvement in academic performance found the social improvements make a strong case for the benefits of animals being around children.
We know as well that for children to learn they need to be engaged and animals can be very engaging in themselves. They move, they respond to you and they make make noises that are unique and different every time. According to this study animals are more engaging than toys for children.
Researchers showed the children several different animals including geckos, snakes, spiders, hamsters and fish and across all conditions of the study the children talked more about the animals, asked more questions about them and interacted with them more than they did the toys showing that animals help to bring out children’s inquisitive nature.
What seems to be the clear message for this research is that the more interaction with a living moving things the better off your children will be. You learn best by doing and if your children are interacting all the the time that means they are learning all the time.