Saturday, 23 July 2016

Teaching Empathy for Animals is Essential

Grade 4s feeding the ducklings at break
While sitting in the Company Gardens having breakfast on a Saturday morning, I watched a 7 year old boy chasing an Egyptian goose with a broken wing. Every time the poor goose hopped out of his reach, he ran to persecute the goose some more. When the goose flew up onto a statue, he started chasing the pigeons instead. While he created havoc amongst the bird life outside, his parents were happily ensconced in the warm cafe. 
I used my 'principal' voice to make him stop, and as I did so, I felt indignation, not only that his parents obviously hadn't taught him empathy for animals, but also towards his school! He obviously was at a school that didn't teach the 'soft' curriculum!

Imaan taming budgies for the library
Ethan and Sarah feeding Cornflake
I then realised, all over again, how important it is that Pinelands North has animals all over the school, and that we subtly teach children very day about how we should care for animals. When the children watch me speaking firmly but gently to Peroni, my puppy, they learn that it unnecessary to shout, or smack, or 'hurt'. When children watch Uncle De Villiers diligently clean swimming ponds, food bowls and aviaries, we are subtly telling children that it is important to treat animals in the same way in which we would like to be treated. When we talk to children about not feeding the puppies at school, we are also teaching the children the importance of feeding the right food to animals. When we insist on the classroom budgies being fed before we continue with our school work we are telling children that we should never allow an animal, no matter how big or small, to suffer hunger or thirst. This creation of empathy for animals is a slow, sure process but the difference between children who understand empathy, and those who don't, is wide ranging. A child who understands that animals feel pain will never intentionally hurt an animal. Even when they hurt animals unintentionally, they are devastated. I am always impressed by the child who, when we practise evacuation drill at school, will walk onto the field carrying their class budgie or rat cage - that is a child who forever will empathise with animals. This too, would be a child who could safely be left to their own devices in the Company Gardens.