Connecting Animals and Children in Early Learning

I’ve always been an animal lover.  I was that little girl who brought home stray cat after stray cat.  My mom still reminds me of the day that I stood on the front porch and cried, “Her bones are sticking out!  Can we keep her?”  As an adult, I still have animals around my house but it’s a little different these days.  My husband grew up in a house where three quarters of the household had pet allergies.  The first pet he ever owned was the yellow lab we got when we bought our first house.  These days, we have a very large Laboradoodle and a Holland Lop rabbit.

Cooper and cookie

This is Cookie.

Cookie bunny

Here’s Cooper.


Last year, when I was at the NAEYC (National Association of Educators of Young Children) conference, I picked up a book called Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood.  It’s written by Patty Born Selly.  I was drawn to this book because I’ve always believed in making sure my own kids have experiences with animals and I’d love to find more ways for my students to engage with animals.

Connecting Animals and Children

This book really gets at the heart of why children are so interested in animals, how animal interactions can support children’s development, and how to create authentic experiences with animals.

While I would LOVE to have a house full of dogs and rabbits, with more farm animals out behind my house, my husband isn’t too fond of the idea of more than one dog and one rabbit.  I would have 2 dogs, 3-4 rabbits, lots of chickens, and maybe even a few goats if I had my way.  I don’t imagine that I will win this battle any time soon, so we have to take our animal experiences where we can get them.

We find animals out in nature.


We check out local animal museums.


And I can still convince my kids to go to the zoo or aquarium with me.


Sometimes these experiences lead to questions and inquiry.  Other times we just read about the animals that we see at local exhibits.  Either way, we are constantly learning new things about the animals we see.

One day the boy in my class was looking through one of my Zootles magazines and saw a zebra.  His eyes grew wide and he came running over to show me the cool horse he had found.  He asked me what it was.  I was shocked.  Here was a little boy, 6 years old, who had never seen a zebra.  He had never read a book about a zebra, seen a picture, or even watched a tv show with zebras.  I asked him if he had ever been to the zoo and he asked what a zoo was.  This conversation with this little boy changed the way I think about experiences with my kids.  I’m so grateful that I have time and resources to do things and go places.  I want my kids to experience all life has to offer.  We take every chance we get to learn about and spend time with animals. My kids feed the pigs on my cousin’s farm, we visit the petting zoos in our area, care for our dog, and even got to go horseback riding last summer.

When it comes right down to it, we ALL simply enjoy spending with and learning about animals.  I got to hold the baby kangaroo at our local kangaroo farm!  (Oooh, maybe I should add a kangaroo to my backyard wishlist!! That way chickens don’t sound like such a bad idea to my hubby!)

baby kangaroo

There is just nothing better than seeing your kids show love and appreciation for animals.  It melts my heart and I know these experiences will stick with them for a lifetime.


How about you?  What do you do to help connect your children or students in your classroom to animals? Head over to my Facebook page and share the animal experiences you have with your kids!


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