Beyond the big top: Family time that respects animals

Beyond the big top: Family time that respects animals

Beyond the big top: Family time that respects animals

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child, as it is to the caterpillar.” —Bradley Miller

Friends of Animals is often asked by parents looking for activities for their kids about how they can raise children who respect animals, wild and domestic. We hope you consider our suggestions:


  • Today we are lucky to have technology that has the ability to transport children to animals of the land and sea in their native habitats in breathtaking, educational ways. Zoos teach children to view animals as a form of entertainment, unlike a nature show on TV or in the theater that films animals in the wild. 

    Digital IMAX documentaries in particular have become stunning and inspiring, and you can’t help leave feeling awe and respect for wild animals and with a mindset about the need to help conserve their habitats. The good news is IMAX has grown from 299 screens worldwide at the end of 2007 to more than 1,102 screens in 2016. We love PBS’ “Nature” series, which has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards in 2016, and the BBC America’s Planet Earth and Planet Earth II series are awe-inspiring.


  • Unlike zoos and circuses, wildlife watching in state and national parks is another great way to better understand and appreciate animals in their own habitat. You can observe animals in their homes and on their terms from a distance. For marine life lovers, there is an underwater sea park in the U.S. called John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Florida.


  • Support and become a member of a sanctuary in your area, such as Catskill Animal Sanctuary in New York. Sanctuaries, which are typically not open to the general public or in limited ways, often offer tours for members or offer interactions with animals at different special events. Catskill actually offers Camp Kindness for kids, an educational opportunity for children that fosters compassion towards all living beings, with a focus on farmed animals. Camp Kindness includes a delicious vegan lunch and snack. (The sanctuary even offers vegan cooking classes.)


  • Throw an animal-themed birthday party and instead of asking guests to bring gifts ask them to bring a monetary donation or an enrichment item for an animal advocacy group, sanctuary or animal shelter in your area (call the sanctuary or animal shelter and see what they are in need of).


  • Encourage kids to volunteer at an animal shelter. In Missouri, the Shelter Buddies Reading Program was designed to help shelter dogs become more adoptable. Reading to the dogs helps to bring comfort to and reduce the anxiety of shelter pets, and it nurtures empathy in children. Participants sit outside of the dog’s kennel and read to them.


  • As a family, create a yard that is hospitable to wildlife. Build birdhouses, bat boxes or butterfly boxes. Encourage kids to create piles of leaves or sticks for chipmunks and squirrels. Plant a hummingbird garden.


  • Read kids’ books that show animals as feeling individuals. A few examples for teaching empathy are Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web, Hobbes Goes Home, A Kid’s Best Friend and The Forgotten Rabbit.


  • Foster an animal. If your family loves animals but isn’t ready commit to having a full-time pet, fostering is a great way to teach kids the meaning of volunteerism and helping others in need. And if youbecome ready for a lifelong commitment to a pet, adopt, don’t shop.