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5 More Lessons Kids Can Learn From Pets

Posted by Sara Schmidt on May 30, 2012 - 09:15 PM

When my daughter was four years old, I wrote this blog post about all of the different kinds of things children learn from having a pet. Now that she is six and we have been unschooling since, I have been able to witness several other ways pets have helped to enrich her life.

5. Compassion
Animals, including humans, will do what comes natural to them; when you have cats and a mouse (I know, who thought of that?), your cats are going to try to eat your mouse! Our cats got a hold of our little mouse, Blue, two times; the second time was fatal. My daughter took the news hard, but when we talked about how it was in River's nature to eat mice and he couldn't really help it, she approached him with understanding. She told him that she was hurt and sad, but "I forgive you, because you're a cat and that is what cats do."

4. Biology
While we haven't really delved into the mechanics of baby-making just yet, she knows that mommies and daddies make babies together. However, since the two females we adopted last fall ended up being a male and a female, she ended up with a visual sooner than we'd have liked! Still, she took it in stride, as if it were the most natural thing in the world (as it is), and she went along for the male's neutering appointment. That also taught her how animals are given medicine, and how you have to carefully treat someone who has had surgery, among other things. Later the animal hospital even let us come back with our homeschool group to have a tour.

3. Diversity
I have written about this before for Teaching Tolerance, but it's important to note that kids can learn about so much diversity through their pets! Not all dogs or cats are the same; just because a cat is a cat doesn't mean it will behave like other cats. Each of our five (five! How did this happen, again?) cats have distinctively different personalities and we can identify them all. We have three cats that are black (we have people ask how we tell them apart, which is actually where this diversity learning comes into play) and we can immediately identify which is which. My daughter understands that just because they are all the same color, that doesn't mean they all like the same things, behave the same way, or even have anything else in common at all! One of them is our most skittish cat, for example, while another requires the most love and holding of all five.

2. Loss
We love our pets deeply, so when our bunny died, our daughter took it very hard--even worse than when the mouse was killed, as the bunny was her favorite pet, a very sweet, gentle creature who followed her everywhere while under supervision. He simply got sick, and though he seemed to be recovering, he died one night. I sobbed so hard myself that I was afraid I'd wake her up; we ended up waiting until the next day to bury him together. Many families have stories like this from their childhoods--the digging of a grave, the making of a headstone, the small funeral for the beloved animal. This physical experience, while very emotional and sad, also helped give her closure and understand death. This single occurrence served as a catalyst for weeks of discussion about life, death, and much more.

1. Joy
Perhaps the most underrated experience in life, but the one we really need to embrace and savor most, joy is the largest thing that our pets have brought into our lives. Whether we are cuddling together, playing with a laser light or string, or even sharing our pets with company, they both foster delight as well as help us express it, enriching every day of our lives. All of these lessons, these qualities, are naturally implemented throughout our days as unschoolers, without any forcing or lesson plans. If it is safe and healthy, I wholly recommend pets to any family, in any style of learning, for all of these reasons and more.

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