The following is a sample lesson plan, created with the assistance of a child psychologist, to help easily incorporate humane education into the school curriculum.
A. GENERAL EDUCATION
Basic needs: food, water, shelter, companionship, health – nutrition, vaccinations, medical treatment for illnesses & injuries, spay/neutering
Basic life cycle & development: pregnancy, birth, aging, death
Characteristics of species – interesting facts for children
B. IMPORTANCE OF SPAY/NEUTERING
Use of posters: Example – Poster starting with 2 cats at top, next level – 4 kittens, next level each kitten has 4 kittens, each of those kittens has 4 kittens, and so on, and so on. Perhaps each generation can be color-coded until at the bottom of the poster the page is swarming with cats.
Older children (late Middle School and High School ages) can learn about animals who are killed due to overpopulation.
Let children know that they CAN make a difference.
C. TREATMENT OF ANIMAL
Hands on approach
Both younger and older children can visit our animal shelter. Older children can assist with caring for the animals.
During nice weather, younger children can take a walk through a park to see the birds, squirrels, etc
Point out that the animals in the park are enjoying the day as are the children. Would the animals want someone to hurt them? Would they prefer the freedom of the park to a cage?
Poster with some brief, easily memorizable saying. For example, “Kindness, Care, Compassion.”
Visit by a vet and/or staff member
For younger children: scripted towards understanding basic health needs and importance of spay/neuter.
Older children could perhaps follow the treatment and recovery of injured animals (preferably animals with visible injuries and good prognosis for recovery).
Classes can adopt an animal through one of the wildlife programs – wolves, whales, etc, or divide class into different groups who each adopt a different animal and tell about where he/she lives, what he/she eats, etc. Many of these programs will send up-to-date reports including photos and stories. Older children can focus on endangered animals; include discussions on why the animal is endangered, what’s being done, etc.
D. INCREASE EMPATHY/COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS
1. Start at the “Feelings” level
Never refer to an animal as “it.” Always use “she” or “he.” It is important to emphasize that animals are sentient beings, not “things.”
Teach children that all animals have feelings just as people do. There are a variety of good books and movies for every age level that underscore this point. Do not view movies that exploit live animals. Get children thinking about how animals might feel in different situations.
Ask them to tell stories about animals they’ve encountered and afterwards ask the class what the animal was probably feeling at different points of the story.
Have younger children draw pictures and older children write stories about animals they have known. Have them answer “How is (the animal) feeling when (event/circumstance) happened?” Encourage them to connect animals’ feelings to events that occur and circumstances that they are in, underscoring the relationships between events and feelings. Ask them, “How would you feel if this happened to you?”
Encourage children to act with kindness toward animals. Ask them to tell/write stories about times they have helped an animal (i.e., dog was lonely and child played with him; cat had no food or water and child gave them a can of food and bowl of water). Make sure to focus on how each child made a difference for the animal, how their individual actions can have a positive impact.
Continue these discussions and writing themes throughout the year. Integrate the theme of animals’ feelings into other subjects, such as Reading, Writing, Spelling, and Social Studies. Keep asking children to think about what various animals are feeling in different situations that come up.
2. Educate children about animal communication
The goal is to teach children that all animals communicate even though we can’t understand them. Children often can’t relate to animals because they don’t understand their behavior; the more different an animal (or person) seems, the more difficult it is to have empathy (think about human prejudices/racism/sexism — the underlying themes are “they’re different from us”).
Use example of bilingual students – learn two different ways of saying key phrases such as hello, leave me alone, I’m scared, I’m hurt.
Extend this metaphor to the animal world – teach them to become observers – “detectives” who have to figure out what various animals are saying with their body language and verbalizations, use photos.
Have black & white outline drawings of different animals feeling different ways – let children pick and color masks to wear. The teacher can first hold up each mask and have children guess what the animal is feeling. Afterwards have them color/decorate the masks, put them on and act out short stories/plays directed by the teacher with additional input from the children.
After children learn some of the basics of animal communication/expression, have them participate in a charades-type game. Print out “Actor” cards which, for example, show a picture of a cat hissing, backing up, ears flattened and have the actor child act that out for the other kids and have them guess what the animal is “saying.”
E. INCREASE AWARENESS OF ANIMAL MISTREATMENT
Have younger children tell about or draw a picture about a time they saw a child/adult “being mean or hurting an animal.” Focus on what the animal was probably feeling before/during/after being mistreated.
Animal Helpers – instruct children to be “animal-helpers” and report animal abuse to adults, especially teachers. Make this a ceremony with a short pledge and an award certificate they can take home. Use a brief phrase, preferably rhyming, so children will remember.
F. CLASSROOM ANIMALS
There are a number of ways teachers could encourage students to learn about animals without actually incorporating them into the classroom:
Spend some time observing wild animals in the schoolyard. Research the animals you see.
Build a bird feeder and place outside the classroom window. Students can take responsibility for providing food for the birds.
Integrate a specific type of animal into lessons for a week or month. Plan research projects around that animal.
Use videos, films and books to learn about animals.
Older students can help adults trap, spay/neuter, and feed the cats.
Use activities and humane education materials developed and available through local humane societies. There are many positive learning activities that can be integrated as part of the curriculum.
G. Suggested Activities
Poster Contest: Have students design a poster with an animal-related theme. For example, “Be Kind To Animals,” “Save Endangered Species,” “Stop Animal Abuse,” “Spay/Neuter Your Companion Animals,” etc. Find a local mall, library, bank that would be willing to display the posters. This would help to educate the community, as well as the students, because people would see the animal-related artwork and themes. The posters can also be displayed in the school building. Give prizes for first, second, and third place of each grade level or age group. You can also award only a first place winner for each grade level or age group, and give each participant an Honorable Mention certificate.