There is an undeniable bond between humans and animals. A pet can be a friend to talk to, an exercise partner, a protector, a service animal, a lap warmer, and much more. Pets offer great companionship to people of all ages and teach compassion.
What to do
ANDEREGG, MACALADY, FOX, HETRICK, KATERS
Using animals as an education tool is an excellent gateway to learning about compassion, care, and responsibility. Adults can teach many lessons through animal interaction and discussion.
Asking about children's favorite pet or what kind of pet they would like to have is a great way to engage in a conversation. This can evolve into a discussion about responsibility and what care needs to be provided for their favorite animal. If the family thinks they might enjoy having a pet, research their needs together like feeding, enrichment, cage recommendations, cleaning, time commitments and cost of care.
Your local humane society is a great place to find information. Teaching children about proper care and treatment of animals needs to happen at a young age to create the responsible pet owners of the future. In addition to learning about necessary care prior to acquiring a new animal, it is equally important to learn about which pet is the right match for your family.
This may mean an older dog is a better match than a puppy based on your family's activity level, but it may also mean a dog is not an appropriate companion all together. Perhaps a guinea pig is a better match. Local humane societies are great places to learn about which animal is right for you.
Grandparents and grandkids are welcome to volunteer as teams at most humane societies. Check age requirements for volunteer children and visitors in your area.
While volunteering, children can get hands-on experience with the daily cleaning of animal cages, exercising, and learning about animal behavior and appropriate interaction.
Volunteering with animals is a great starting point to teach children compassion and empathy toward all creatures, which often times naturally spills over to similar feelings toward human-kind. Very young children can help with a relative's or neighbor's pet. In turn pets are great listeners while children practice their reading.
Many studies indicate young caring volunteers become adults who contribute to the community and give back throughout their lives.
Adults can use the strong human-animal bond to interest children in volunteering and learning about the concept of giving time to those in need.
Editor's note: This column is penned by retired Marquette Area Public Schools teachers Iris Katers, Jean Hetrick, and Cheryl Anderegg. Esther Macalady is from Golden, Colorado. Tim Fox currently teaches at Superior Hills Elementary. It's supported by Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, the School of Education, U.P. Children's Museum, U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, and U.P. Parent Awareness of Michigan. Their book "Learning Through the Seasons" is available at area stores and www.grandparentsteachtoo.org. Their mission is to provide fun standards based activities that adults can do in the home to prepare children for school and a lifetime of learning and reduce the stress of child care.