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Creating a future generation of animal heroes

30 September 2019
Creating a future generation of animal heroes

It's a Thursday morning during the last week of term two. Despite the fact it is almost the school holidays, the students in room 10 are giving Ms Woodhill their full attention. Today they're learning about the 'five freedoms' - one of the SPCA Education Programme Units.

The five freedoms outline what responsible animal owners must provide their pets so they can live happy and healthy lives. The class of year three and four students pick it up quickly.

Ms Woodill leads a discussion on what freedoms the children provide their pets with, such as a comfy bed to give freedom from discomfort, or play-time to give freedom to express normal behaviour. Relating the freedoms to their furry family members at home, the children show they are kind and compassionate towards animals they encounter.

And this is what the SPCA Education Programme is all about. The driving force behind the programme is to help ensure a better future for all animals by teaching the next generation to care for and respect them.

“By doing so, the SPCA hopes to break the cycle of animal cruelty in New Zealand communities and reduce the number of abused and neglected animals that need the SPCA’s help each year," says education manager Nicole Peddie.

How the programme works

The programme includes classroom resources, teaching plans linked to the New Zealand Curriculum, a teachers’ and students’ online portal, and two sets of Learn-to-Read Storybooks.

To ensure the programme is accessible to all New Zealand children, every primary school has been provided with free copies of both series' of the storybooks. After using the books in their classrooms, teachers are encouraged to register online to find more resources and expand upon students’ learning; with the hope that they will eventually incorporate the programme into their lessons. This is exactly what Chaucer Primary School teacher Jane Woodill has done, after the school were sent the SPCA storybooks.

“The readers were a huge incentive. They are so well done that I wanted to look more into what was behind them.

"The programme has been so easy to use, and the website is easy to navigate. There are a lot of resources and they are adaptable. Plus, all the curriculum links and resources are there and the planning is already done."

Now, Jane uses different aspects of the programme where suits. The class have done artwork based on the storybooks, and a project where they had to design a playground for goats – teaching them the importance of enrichment for animals – as well as many other projects.

“The programme is a goldmine of ideas so I do sometimes ‘cherrypick’, such as making a one-off birdfeeder when we heard that garden birds were becoming less common.

“We did a unit on empathy which was well supported by the readers and pet care videos. Looking at animal sentience and feelings then led into the five freedoms unit. We use the readers in our reading programme to apply the freedoms to various characters in the stories."

Compassion for all animals

It's not just the animals at home the class are learning about. The second series of storybooks is based on farm animals, chosen because, after pets, these are the animals which New Zealand children are most likely to interact with.

"Most people love their dogs and cats, most want to treat their pets with the kindness and respect they deserve. Unfortunately, many farm and wild animals are less likely to be treated with the same empathy and compassion. The more people learn about farm and wild animals and how similar they are to the animals they bring into their homes, the more they will hopefully want to improve the lives these animals live," says Nicole.

The farm animal stories teach children that it's not just their pets at home that need love and care. Most recently, Room 10 students have read Pumpkin Pie and Pavlova together, a story about three chickens. Like all the stories in the series, Pumpkin Pie and Pavlova contains messages about animal care, animal welfare, and tips for families on how to be responsible pet owners.

"I learnt that chickens like to scratch and need to have room to move about," says 7-year-old Ella.

The big idea

As well as the practical animal care tips, Jane explains that it's the big ideas in the storybooks – ideas around animal sentience – which are key.

"It may sound silly but it’s like I have some extra four-legged class members. The students compared an incidence of unkindness to “when those boys bullied Pudding”. I overheard some students talking about someone not playing with them and another girl tell them not to worry as they may have been tired or have a sore side which was a clear reference to Toni the Party Pony.”

​Future animal heroes

By all accounts, the children of Room 10 love learning about animals and have proven themselves to have taken the lessons on board.

It’s clear to see the learning translates outside the classroom too. At morning tea time, the students call over to Ms Woodill; there's been a sighting of a stray cat and they are desperate to care for it! It's encouraging to see young children so passionate about animals in their community, not just their pets at home.

With animal heroes like the students in Room 10, the future for New Zealand’s animals looks promising.

To read more about the SPCA Education Programme, you can:

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