Environmental Education, Children, and Animals

Author: Arcken, Marjan Margadant-van

Source: Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, 1 March 1989, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 14-19(6)


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This article discusses the results of a research project concerning environmental education and the relationship between children and animals. Five kindergartens were visited and 26 open interviews were conducted with children between the ages of 6 and 12. The leading question in this study was, How do children experience animals, and how do they perceive nature? The next question was, How does a relationship develop between a child and an animal, and how is this relationship useful in environmental education?

A young child's concept of life and death is very restricted. If something does not move, it is dead; if something does move, it is alive. Thus, for young children, nature is not living. Only at roughly the age of 10 does a child gain the insight that trees and plants are really living nature. Most of the time, however, children have a much greater interest in living animals than in trees and plants. The animals in this project also were used deliberately in a broader environmental context.

The meeting of a child with an unknown animal follows a more or less structured pattern. The child's initial attitude is somewhat fearful, and this continues during the development of the relationship. Once the child is completely at ease with the animal, he/she loses his/her fear. With the establishment of trust, the animal is allowed to share in the child's normal activities: the two share one reality; a fusion of horizons has occurred.

If environmental education aims to transfer not only knowledge but also awareness of the interwoven relationship of people and nature, then striving for this fusion of horizons is fundamental to the teaching task.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/089279390787057810

Publication date: March 1, 1989

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