Making a difference for future generations
Every year thousands of abused, neglected, and injured animals arrive in SPCA’s care.
SPCA wants to make a real difference and break this trend of abuse, so our team developed a free education programme for schools, to help change the hearts and minds of the future generation. This is the story of Nicole Peddie, SPCA’s National Education Manager and the leading force behind SPCA’s education programme.
While working as a primary school teacher - a role she held for 11 years - she was often the first port of call when children had been misbehaving, particularly when they would hurt animals and didn’t understand the impact of their actions.
“Throughout my teaching career, I seized any teachable moment to model and advocate for compassion, respect, and responsible behaviour towards living creatures regardless of their species,” she says.
“I was often the teacher who was sent any lost, sick, or injured animals found within the school grounds, nearby streets, or the playground. I was also the teacher that was usually sent children who had harmed the school’s monarch caterpillars, playground pigeons, hedgehog, stray kittens, or vulnerable wee ducklings.”
After years encountering the same problem, and with some children taking the same negative actions toward animals, Nicole knew something needed to change.
“One of these incidents was a child who had intentionally harmed a mother duck and her ducklings. A talk just wasn’t enough. I needed to understand why this behaviour was happening and find out how I could prevent it from happening again.
"The exact moment I decided to leave classroom teaching, for a career in animal welfare, was actually whilst searching online for a programme or resource to support this child. I was looking for resources and didn’t find any or any pathways for that child. That was when I came across the job advertisement for what would be my current role for SPCA.”
Shaping young minds
Now Nicole is developing SPCA’s National Education strategy. Since its launch in 2017, SPCA has grown significantly in the education space, with Nicole leading the development of various resources, including:
- SPCA’s Kids’ Education Portal – A unique online resource that has been designed to support children’s learning about animal welfare and responsibility toward animals.
- SPCA’s Teachers’ Portal - Designed for primary and intermediate school teachers, it provides innovative animal welfare lesson plans, suggested learning experiences, printable and digital supporting materials, as well as assessment templates that align with New Zealand’s curriculum.
- SPCA’s Learn-to-Read Storybooks – These twelve books help Kiwi kids to both improve their reading skills and learn to care for and respect animals. The books cater to different ages and reading levels. Each story is based on a real-life rescue by SPCA, and contains messages about animal care, animal welfare, and tips for families on how to be responsible pet owners.
- SPCA’s Targeted Intervention Portal - Some children are more at risk than others in engaging in intentional animal abuse. These young people may require more intensive, targeted interventions, in addition to the education they receive from the components above. The Education Team is working on the design and implementation of high-quality humane intervention resources and services to support professionals working with children and young people in need of experiences that build empathy, compassion and pro-social behaviours.
Spreading the word
Every day Nicole strives to spread the message of compassion to as many children as she can, and no day is ever the same.
“Currently, my day varies a lot between proactive tasks such as working with Sunshine Books on the publishing of our third series of SPCA instructional reading books and creating the supporting teaching materials for each of these books; updating all of our existing education materials for an exciting re-brand; reviewing any new content to be added to either of our education portals; supporting and guiding our other Education Team members with the awesome new resources they are currently developing,” she says.
“This is combined with reactive tasks such as animal care and welfare education advice, guidance and support to teachers, principals and parents. I also work collaboratively with our Science Team on any issues that involve children and animals, such as dog bite prevention education and animals kept as classroom pets.”
Enhancing the lives of animals and children
What Nicole loves the most about her job is being in the position to use her knowledge, skills, and experience on enhancing the lives of both animals and children.
“I find it hard to imagine anything more rewarding!” she says.
“So many of the teachers I spoke to, so many of the schools I have visited had a story to share about children and animals, and it wasn’t always positive.”
Nicole was confident that the resources developed would be a valuable teaching and learning tool but she was shocked at just how overwhelming the positive response from children, families, teachers and principals throughout New Zealand has been.
“It’s the spontaneous “feedback” I was able to observe, such as the group of boys I overheard practising a rap they’d written about putting a stop to animal cruelty. The stick fence a group of five-year-olds had built around their school swan plant in attempt to prevent the monarch caterpillars venturing onto the footpath, and the signs they created warning others to “woch yor step, catapilas krosing” during their lunch playtime,” she laughs.
“When acts of kindness are natural and unprompted, you know it’s firmly rooted in their hearts and minds.”
SPCA’s Learn-to-Read storybooks have been a huge success.
“Following the launch of the books, we have been inundated with positive feedback from principals, teachers, children and parents - hence our enthusiasm and drive to develop this successful resource further, with a third series to be launched in 2020!” she says.
“SPCA’s storybooks unite not only SPCA with the schools, but with the communities, the family, and the children. I recently received an email from a teacher in Fiji who was teaching at a rural school with kids sitting on tyres. She was reading our storybooks to them, and it was so cool to see that they’ve ended up there.”
“These resources are free and available to all 2,200 schools across New Zealand and we have already printed and distributed over 38,750 books – which is pretty awesome!”
Seeking the heights
Nicole has already done so much for SPCA, and she doesn't plan on slowing down.
“We are currently in the process of publishing a third series of SPCA Learn-to-Read Storybooks featuring children taking positive action for wild animals and the environment. We hope to be able to provide free sets of each new reader to every primary school in New Zealand again in Term 1 2020,” Nicole says.
“We are also working on a stack of new reading response activities for ready-to-read readers and junior journal stories that feature animals, as well as several new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) based units. These new resources will be uploaded onto the Teachers’ Portal before the end of Term 4.”
Nicole says the team's next big focus is the early childhood education (ECE) sector.
“We believe these are crucial years to support and encourage children’s interests in science, nature and animals and a critical period for children’s social-emotional development and for ‘planting seeds’ of empathy and compassion. We have just recruited a wonderful ECE teacher who is about to embark on the development of resources specifically designed for ECE teachers and their learners.
"These learning resources will support learning across all strands of TeWhāriki (NZ’s early childhood curriculum document) and support ECE teachers in nurturing their learners’ exploration and curiosity about animals, whilst encouraging feelings of empathy and actions of compassion. I’m extremely excited about this space!”
To find out more about SPCA’s Education Programme, visit https://kids.spcaeducation.org.nz/