Empathy 101: Kids Working with Animals

Stretch their skills. Help them think of others, including needy creatures.

by Michele C. Hollow | Updated 25 Mar 2016 at 12:10 PM

Most kids like to feel that they are in charge every so often.

They also like animals.

These easy-to-do projects will make children feel good about themselves and at the same time, they will learn about the importance of helping others — even those “others” with fur, wings, and scales. And these skills will come in handy in countless ways throughout their lives.

Dip into these and figure out which will work for your kids — then watch their skills and empathy grow.

1.) Keep a Pet Company by Reading.
A number of animal shelters throughout the country have reading programs in which kids literally sit and read to cats or dogs. The idea is to socialize the animals — while at the same time help children sharpen their reading skills and verbal skills. If your local animal shelter doesn’t have a reading program, talk to the director at the shelter and suggest one. You’ll likely need to supervise a very young child, of course, but you’ll enjoy that time together.

2.) Be a Party Animal.
Throw a birthday party, end-of-school-year celebration, or a holiday celebration by gathering friends and family to pay tribute to the animals. Kids can dress up as their favorite animal and ask friends to bring small items or gifts for the local animal shelter. Everything from used blankets to bags and cans of pet food to toys are almost always welcome and much appreciated.

3.) Go Cyber — Create an Online Shelter Program.
Middle and high school students can create their own "cyber shelter," in which they take photos and write descriptions about the cats and dogs that are up for adoption at local animal shelters. Your children can also write witty and informative descriptions about these animals. The descriptions should be placed in the same room as the animals that are up for adoption — giving potential adopters helpful information about their next pet and sharpening your child’s interviewing and writing skills.

4.) Take a Walk.
Have your children talk to the directors at local shelters and ask about organizing walk-a-thons for shelters or other organizations that care for animals. Best Friends Animal Society has an online page where kids can learn about hosting fundraisers such as walk-a-thons, bake sales and more. Everyone benefits. The kids get some fresh air and exercise, and the animals benefit from a little extra money.

5.) Handle Some DIY Projects.
One easy and inexpensive way to help cats and dogs at animal shelters is to do-it-yourself. Your child can make simple catnip toys by cutting fleece materials into long strips and knotting the fabric so the knot is in the center. From there, sprinkle some catnip over the top of the toy — and voila, they've created a treat that is irresistible to most cats.

For dogs, take an old clean sock and place a ball inside. Knot it, and you’re good to go. Most dogs will love playing tug-of-war with it.

6.) Open a Dog Park.
This can be a class project for older kids — and isn't as hard as it may sound. Have your child ask his teachers to approach your local mayor or town council to open a dog park. Gather information on what it takes to raise the funds. Get local government approval, and talk to city planners on how to get started. You can invite local government officials and city planners to talk to your class or assembly, so the entire school can get involved.

7.) Host a Community Park Cleanup.
If your child belongs to a local boy or girl scout troop, pick a few kids to represent the group to talk to their town’s department of public works or sanitation group. They should get information on how to clean up the local park where wildlife resides. Or this can be a class or school-wide project. It can be a one-time event or an ongoing cleanup project.

8.) Invite Veterinarians, Zoologists, Other Animal Experts to Class.
Have your child first talk to his teacher to see if everyone at the school is on board. Once she gets the okay, have her ask the local veterinarian, animal shelter director, or wildlife expert to talk to the students at school about the importance of caring for animals. Sometimes they can even bring smaller animals to the schools as well. Kids delight in seeing new or interesting animals up close — and everyone benefits.

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