‘Pets can have amazing therapeutic benefits for children and young people’ (Carter M, Independent 2019).
There are many benefits to having pets within a childcare setting. Children can observe, interact, and care for animals which can provide an enriching, invaluable experience where they will learn about empathy, relationship, and nature. At Wee Gems Broxburn we have three wonderful pets. Our Rabbit is called Chase and our Guinea Pigs are called Pepper and Cinnamon. We asked some of our children to describe what having the pets in the nursery means to them. Some of their responses were ‘having the pets make me happy’, ‘I like seeing them, they are soft’ and finally ‘I like watching them eat’. We have found them to be a great source of comfort, companionship. Spending time with the pets enables the children to communicate their feelings more easily. Recent studies have found that children with pets positively correlated with children having feelings of importance and a higher self-esteem (Horvath, J).
It is clear to all our staff the positive impact that our pets have on the children especially with settling to the nursery. The children immediately feel at ease around the animals and they can totally be themselves, no rules, or expectations. We often have children who sit by the cage and we hear them telling the guinea pigs about their day. In our younger age group they love to watch the bunny when he sleeps or when he puts his paw out for them to hold.
As a nursery we have found it has given the children a sense of responsibility and provided a fantastic learning opportunity around caring for the animals, managing hygiene, and understanding the risk when handling pets. The ownership of our pets took careful planning, we involved the children and discussed the responsibilities and rules around handling the pets. One preschool child explained to me ‘you have to be careful with them’ and another said ‘they need to be patted gently’. It was clear they were comfortable with the tasks required for having these pets. Our preschool children help to clean out and feed our guinea pigs three times a week, they know to refill their water and help to cut up carrots for food. The children within our younger room enjoy giving Chase treats, putting kale in his cage, and filling the water bottle.
As a nursery who remained open during the covid-19 pandemic having the pets was fantastic. We had children who came from other nursery settings and the pets gave them something else to focus on when they were settling in.
Here at Wee Gems Broxburn we love all of our pets and believe they bring a lot of joy and happiness to staff and children alike.