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The Benefits of Bonding with Furry Friends
By: Fourth Grade Teachers Amy McMullin and Taylor Berns
Year after year, we witness fourth graders burst with excitement when participating in our service project, supporting the Humane Society. It’s easy to see how much children love animals. More recently, we’ve noticed this affection in our fourth grade Zoom meetings. During any given virtual gathering, you may see dogs, cats, hamsters and other beloved family pets pop on the screen while hearing a collective “awww” from the class. While many of us feel a deep connection with animals, children in particular form especially strong relationships with our furry friends. The best part is that animals don’t just make kids happy, they can provide long-term benefits to a child’s well-being, and you don’t have to own a pet to reap some of the rewards.
Studies from the National Institute of Health (NIH) have shown that childhood pet ownership increases self-esteem and empathy for others. Other studies have found that pets have the ability to reduce loneliness and boost one’s mood. In addition the NIH states that, “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.” It is even possible that having a pet “may facilitate language acquisition and potentially enhance verbal skills in children.” Studies have also shown that early exposure to animals may help protect young children from developing allergies and asthma. And this is not to mention the obvious need for increased responsibility required to care for a pet. The benefits are clear enough that you may want to reconsider your response the next time your child begs, “Can we please get a dog? Please?”
While having a pet is a powerful way to forge the child-animal connection, it may not be possible due to allergies, schedules or other limitations. The good news is that there are lots of opportunities to support and connect with animals outside of ownership. When it’s safe to venture out again, your child may like to participate in our local Humane Society’s Shelter Buddies Reading Program. It’s an opportunity for children ages 6-15 to read to the animals and has the benefit of strengthening their reading skills without any judgment from their furry listener! The Humane Society also offers a Summer Camp for ages 6-14. Your cat-loving kiddo may enjoy visiting a “cat cafe” such as Mauhaus Cafe in Maplewood for some furry snuggles and a delicious treat. This could be a fun place for them to do homework periodically and perhaps offer some motivation! Do you have a child who loves farm animals? One of our favorite aspects of our service project is visiting Longmeadow Rescue Ranch in Union, MO, which provides rehabilitation for farm animals on their ranch of 165 acres. Our fourth graders love getting up close to horses, cows, pigs, goats, and more, giving them some much-needed love and interaction. Until it is safe to leave home again, there is always the option of donating online to support animals, which can certainly provide similar mood-boosting benefits and the feeling of connection.
During a time when we need connection more than ever, it’s important that we do what we can to help our children cultivate bonds that help them feel fulfilled. Connecting with or supporting animals is a great way to do that! The benefits could last a lifetime.
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.