Why we should plan lessons with information about animals for children

Mariti, C, Papi, F, Mengoli, M, Moretti, G, Martelli, F, & Gazzano, A. (2011). Improvement in children’s humaneness toward nonhuman animals through a project of educational anthrozoology. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 6 (1), 12-20

Humaneness towards animals has been viewed as an increasingly desirable trait in recent years. This study investigated how the humaneness of children could be affected by educational anthrozoology lessons in primary schools.

This study to assess children’s attitudes to animals was conducted in seven primary schools in Pisa, Italy. Using a questionnaire-based approach for data collection, the study was comprised of three stages. Firstly, a questionnaire was provided to 201 children (aged 9-11 years old) to understand their initial levels of knowledge about, perception of, responsibility for, and relationship with animals. Secondly, a series of four lessons were delivered on dogs, cats and rabbits. These lessons included teachings on the communication methods, behaviour and emotional states of the household pets, and how to remain safe around them. Lastly, a second questionnaire similar to the first, was completed by each child. By comparing the results of the two questionnaires for each individual, it could be assessed whether the educational lessons had impacted the children’s humaneness.

Informative lessons reduce children’s fear of animals

Overall, the project was a success. The results on the knowledge section of the questionnaire had a higher rate of accuracy after the lessons, especially amongst children that did not own pets; suggesting that the lessons enabled those children to efficiently catch-up with their pet-owning peers. Other positive results included the improvement in the children’s perception of animals, as well as an improvement in their relationships with them. A reduction was seen in the number of children who were fearful of pets, highlighting the importance of education on the attitudes of children towards animals.

Animal-related accidents occur most frequently in children, and are often a result of human ignorance. The results of this study strongly contribute to the argument for incorporating educational anthrozoology into school syllabuses. Furthermore, a child’s interest in the animal world declines from 15 years old. Therefore, the authors concluded that educating children whilst they are still in primary school would be the best course of action, particularly for those children that do not have access to animal interactions at home.

World Animal Protection’s view 

World Animal Protection believes that harnessing and nurturing the empathy that young people tend to have towards animals is key in developing life-long values.  Formal inclusion of animal welfare and other related issues within national curricular frameworks have formed a large part of our work to date.