Ideas For Schools

Research has shown that there are numerous benefits in encouraging children to care for animals. For young children, looking after a companion animal can help develop a sense of responsibility and compassion, and can help in coming to terms with some of life’s more difficult issues, such as bereavement. Sometimes a child who finds it difficult to share his or her troubles with an adult or another child will talk to and confide in an animal, which can help in processing complex emotions. Celebrating World Animal Day in school is an ideal way to mark the end of a project on animals, whether involving pets, farm animals or wild animals.

For older students, World Animal Day can be used to introduce more complex ethical issues (conservation, euthanasia, vivisection, vegetarianism, and so on) as well as the more obvious applications to life sciences.

Here are just a few ideas for World Animal Day to get you started, together with a few curriculum areas that you could cover. For teachers of older students, multiple subject areas are given for each idea, but it should be possible to gear the activity to whatever is your curriculum specialism.

4 to 7 year olds

  • Create a special ‘Our Pets’ display. Include the children’s own pictures in a variety of media (Art), written descriptions (English; ICT) and simple graphs (Maths).
  • Introduce basic concepts of animal welfare by inviting the children to talk about their own pets’ individual needs. Talk about how these differ according to the animal, e.g. tropical fish need a very different home to a cat.
  • Set up a bird table and put out a variety of foods and record which ones are the most popular (Science; Maths). A suitable selection of foods could be half a coconut, some specially made bird cake, cereal, bird seed mix and fruit. This could be done as a simple tally chart or as a pictogram. Don’t forget to keep feeding the birds and putting out water over the following months.
  • Have an animal story day. Include old favourites such as David McKie’s Elmer books and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but also make up some original stories with the children and ‘publish’ them in a class book (English; Art; ICT). Talk about the differences between story animals and real-life animals – for example, would they ever expect to see an elephant like Elmer? Can animals really talk? What ways do they use to communicate with us?
  • Devise a presentation about animals around the world for assembly. Include mime, dance, music, poetry and stories (Geography; Science; PE; Music; English).
  • Get the children to make either farm animals or zoo animals out of saltdough, then ask them to make an appropriate environment for them, e.g. a field with a shelter for horses or a large enclosure with trees and climbing equipment for monkeys (Art; D&T; Science). No tiny cages, please! Encourage the children to empathise and to think carefully about the animals’ needs. Finish off the display with a caption, such as ‘Welcome to Saltdough Safari Park’.
  • Talk about how some animals use camouflage. Discuss how this can be by patterns on the animals’ coats (e.g. tigers, zebras) or by their colour (e.g. grasshoppers, polar bear) (Science; English). Make an animal camouflage display in collage or mosaic (Art).
  • Compile a class book of animal jokes. Ask the children each to write out and illustrate a joke for the book (English; Art; ICT).
  • Talk about the ways in which different animals move and behave. Lead the children to understand that animals look, move or behave differently according to their environment. Make animal masks and let the children explore animal actions through drama.

8 to 11 year olds

  • Organise a trip to a local animal shelter, city farm, bird sanctuary, etc. Liaise with the venue’s education officer well in advance. Follow up the visit with thank-you letters from the children, including the children’s own pictures and photographs (Science; English; PSHE/Citizenship).
  • Ask your class to nominate a favourite animal charity or a local sanctuary and organise a fund-raising concert for it (Music; English; PE). Involve the children as much as possible in the logistics of seating, ticket prices, refreshments, etc (Maths; Science). Alternatively, they could organize a sponsored event, possibly with an animal-related theme, e.g. reading poems about animals, walking in fancy dress, etc.
  • The ‘Five Freedoms’ are internationally recognized as being fundamental to animal welfare. (These are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behaviour.) Ask your class to write about how these apply to any animals they might have at home. What about farm animals and zoo animals? Pupils who show a particular enthusiasm and understanding of these concepts could be awarded a ‘World Animal Day Young Animal Welfarist’ certificate. (English; Science; PSHE/Citizenship)
  • Make a display of ‘Animals around the World’, including a large world map with the children’s own pictures and written work linked to the animals’ country of origin (Geography; Science; Art; English; ICT).
  • Investigate the diverse roles animals play in our lives. Include farm animals and working animals such as sheep dogs, guide dogs, police horses, etc (Geography; Science; PSHE/Citizenship; English).
  • Ask the children to research animals that have become national symbols – these might include the New Zealand kiwi, the Russian bear, the American bald eagle, the South African springbok or the British bulldog. Why do they think these particular creatures were adopted? (English; Geography; History)
  • Look at some of Aesop’s fables involving animals, such as the Hare and the Tortoise, Androcles and the Lion, the Ant and the Grasshopper, etc. Why did Aesop choose animal characters in so many of these stories? What characteristics do the animals show? Ask groups of children to act out some of the stories. (English; History; PSHE/Citizenship)
  • Research endangered species and animals that have become extinct. To what extent is humankind responsible? (English; Science; Geography; History)
  • Listen to pieces of music that are intended to represent animals – e.g. Saint-Saëns’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’, Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ or Rimski-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’. What aspects of the animals have the composers tried to capture – their movements? their sounds? Listen to some recordings of real animal noises such as whale song or bird song. Encourage children to make up their own pieces of music or poems to represent animals (Music; English).
  • Look at the changing role of animals throughout history in farming, transport, warfare, etc (History; Science; D&T; English).
  • Research the story of St Francis. What have been the lasting effects of his life and teachings? (RE; History)
  • Research the different items that are made from animals or animal products. The children could be encouraged to consider ethical questions about farming, vegetarianism, etc. (English; Science; PSHE/Citizenship)
  • Introduce children to the concept of food chains, e.g. vegetation 4 worm 4 bird 4 cat. More able children could be introduced to food webs, where chains are inter-connected, e.g. a worm 4 bird + mole + shrew + badger; bird 4 cat + fox + hawk, etc. Challenge the class to see who can produce the longest food chain or the most complex food web. (Science; Art)
  • Introduce a range of poetic forms, such as acrostics, haiku, limericks and rhyming couplets, and ask children to choose one to write about a favourite animal. Stress the need to match form and content, e.g. haiku poems tend to be reflective and subtle, while limericks are generally humorous. (English).

12 to 18 year olds

  • Ask students to write to newspapers and magazines about an animal welfare issue. Encourage them to think about the nature of the publication’s readership and to tailor their subject matter accordingly. Younger students might like to write a poem about an animal welfare issue, either locally or from another country, and submit it for publication. (Media Studies; English; Geography; Science; PSHE/Citizenship).
  • Choose a controversial subject area (the use of animals in laboratory experiments, the role of zoos, the handling of the bird flu crisis, vegetarianism, etc) and hold a class debate, with students putting forward both sides of the argument before voting (English; Science; PSHE/Citizenship; RE).
  • Ask students to produce an in-depth report on one of the above subjects, based on research through a range of media (English; Science; PSHE/Citizenship; RE; ICT).
  • Look at the different ways in which animals have featured in literature throughout history. You could consider, for example, how Chaucer mocks the aristocracy of his time through the words of Chaunticleer the rooster and Pertelote the hen in his ‘Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ in the Canterbury Tales, or the effect that Anna Sewell’s novel Black Beauty had upon Victorian animal welfare.(English; History).
  • The ‘Five Freedoms’ are internationally recognised as being fundamental to animal welfare. (These are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behaviour.) Ask to students to investigate how these can be achieved for domestic animals, farm animals and zoo animals. They might like to make comparisons with the rights of human animals. (English; Science; PSHE/Citizenship).
  • Ask students to conduct research into an endangered species and present their findings. What economic, social or historical factors led to the animal being endangered? (Science; ICT; Geography; History; English; RE)
  • Organize a fund-raising event for an animal charity or shelter (e.g. concert, sponsored walk in animal fancy dress, etc), but let the students do the research, costing and planning themselves (Maths; Science; D&T; Art; plus virtually any other subject area).
  • Arrange for individual students to help out for a day at an animal shelter, wildlife sanctuary, or similar (Science; Citizenship).
  • Organize a debate around a cultural practice that compromises animal welfare (e.g. American rodeo, Spanish bullfighting or Chinese bear farming). Which do students feel is more important – the animals’ wellbeing or the preservation of culture? (Geography; English; PSHE/Citizenship)
  • Form a link with a school in another country to exchange ideas, photographs, etc, connected with animals (MFL; ICT).
  • Celebrate the day with a multi-media display on an animal-related theme, if possible at a public venue such as a local museum or leisure centre (Art; D&T; English; ICT).
  • Research the damaging effect that introducing species from other countries can have on the environment. Examples could include the mongoose that was introduced in Hawaii in the nineteenth century to control the rat population, or the rabbit that was introduced into Great Britain in Mediaeval times and more recently into Australia and New Zealand (English; History; Science).
  • Ask groups of four to six students to devise an animal-themed board game (Art; D&T; Maths; Science). This could be as simple as a basic ‘snakes and ladders’ type, or a knowledge-based ‘Trivial Pursuit’ type, or something more complicated like ‘Monopoly’. They will need to produce a visually exciting board, tokens or counters, a way of scoring, an appealing name for the game, etc. At the end of the session, ask the groups to swap their games with other groups to ‘test drive’ them and give feedback.

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