Scrolling through social media as a dog lover, I come across numerous, delightful videos of charming dogs doing cute things. At the same time, there are very many clips of dogs with babies which I choose not to watch as they always make me feel a bit uncomfortable. Dog owners may think they have the loveliest pup in the world however I believe being over cautious is the best stance; I’ve heard too many harrowing stories of the dangers dogs can present to young children.
At the same time, it is impossible to ignore all the recent initiatives taking place which use dogs to support children’s development; dogs which listen to children read, dogs for wellbeing, dogs who support children on the autistic spectrum etc. Research into these initiatives is in its early days although I notice more and more students are choosing this topic as a focus for their dissertation. There is still much research work to be done; it is not only an under researched area but there are also suggestions that, in research work to date, methodologies used can be a little problematic. However there does appear to be consensus that dogs are beneficial to young children in terms of their cognitive development (Hall et al., 2016).
In addition to supporting young children with learning to read, it is also suggested that having the opportunity to interact with a dog can impact positively on wellbeing. For example, in children with emotional development issues, engagement with a dog at school can have a positive impact on their behaviours and dispositions (Anderson and Olson, 2006). Ward et al. (2019) use the lovely expression a ‘calming and joyful effect on adults and children’ to describe what the presence of a dog can do when they researched adult/child/dog/ interactions in nature. So does the dog reign supreme or might other animals have an equivalent positive impact?
It is generally thought that all pets are a positive addition to a child’s life whether in the home or the early years/school setting. For example there is research to suggest that having pets impacts on self-esteem, cognitive and social development. (Purewal et al., 2017). Russo et al’s research (2017) shows how parents certainly see the benefits of pet ownership for their children and as such how the pet is considered an important member of the family. From our own experiences in practice we saw how pets such as guinea pigs in the setting helped children who were lacking in confidence or just having a ‘wobble’ on a particular day.
Do you have any experience of using animals in the early years setting and the benefits they can bring? We would love to hear about them….
Anderson, K.L. and Olson, M.R. (2006) The value of a dog in a classroom of children with severe emotional disorders, Anthrozoös, 19(1), pp. 35-49.
Hall, S, Gee, N.R., Mills, D.S. (2016) Children Reading to Dogs: A Systematic Review of the Literature. PLOS ONE, 11(2), pp. 1-22.
Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C., Meints, K., Gee, N. and Westgarth, C. (2017) Companion Animals and Child/Adolescent Development: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 14(3), p. 234.
Russo, N., Vergnano, V., Berger, D.and Prola, L. (2017) Small Pilot Survey on Parents’ Perception of the Relationship between Children and Pets, Vet. Sci, 4(4), p. 52.
Ward, T., Goldingay, S. and Parson, J. (2019) Evaluating a supported nature play programme, parents’ perspectives, Early Child Development and Care, 189(2), pp. 270-283.