#WorldAnimalDay: To save the planet, we need to change the way we teach our children about animals

04 October 2019

In a world that is becoming increasingly fragile, it is easy to feel lost in what to do next to protect our environment, our children and the animals and plants that share our planet.

We hear of the mass destruction of the world's rainforests, the pollution of our oceans and the air we breathe and the industrial scale removal of wild animals from their homes to be traded for food and entertainment. Coupled with this, animals are faced with ever-increasing individual problems due to our insatiable desire to eat them, wear their skins, test our products and medicines on them, or to use and all too often abuse them for our personal entertainment.


The animals we use for our own purposes are sentient animals, aware of sensations and emotions, with the ability to suffer physically and mentally through fear, pain and distress, and the ability to experience a state of well-being and happiness. Many animals have cognitive, social and emotional capacities once thought to belong only to humans and can experience anxiety, depression, grief, happiness and optimism in a similar way to us. Sentient animals are aware of their surroundings and of what happens to them, and what happens to them matters to them as individuals.

In many cases the way in which we use such sentient beings has become socially, legally and politically acceptable and through our use we encourage our children to follow the same path, making children less likely to even question the morality of our animal uses.

In extreme cases we may actually put our children at risk of becoming habituated to the actual neglect and cruelty with which we inflict upon many animals. For example, if children view adults using animals for entertainment, or animals being killed for us to eat, they are in danger of becoming desensitised to these actions and accustomed to the pain and suffering they witness, making them more inclined to perpetuate the neglect and cruelty further.

Lion in cage

Any process of desensitisation opposes the crucial development in childhood of empathy, the precursor to sympathy and sympathetic behaviour. The development of empathy for animals is essential if we are to change the attitudes and subsequently the behaviours of individuals to prevent both animals and the natural world from being so badly exploited.

The destructive systems of animal and natural resource use that we have created can not continue indefinitely, or we risk losing the very land, waters and air that we are so very dependant upon for our own survival. Efforts are underway in all corners of the globe to change these systems, to make them less destructive, less abusive or to abolish them altogether and these efforts must be further resourced and supported. But to fundamentally overhaul these systems, we must change the very way in which we teach our children about animals and the natural world.

When a child is born, he or she has no ingrained behaviours and no preconceptions of our relationship with animals and the environment. As they grow, the society around them influences their attitudes and subsequently their personal behaviours, and all too often this influence is in support of the very systems that are leading to our own destruction.

Dolphin sushi
deviantart.com/gideonwright - Dolphin Sushi

Society both consciously and subconsciously fills our children's minds with negative messages about our relationship with animals and the environment. In a single day we may teach children to be respectful to animals and the environments they rely upon, only to then encourage them to eat animals without questioning the life that the animal has suffered to get onto the dinner plate, or the environmental damage this has caused, and thus encouraging our children to be a part of perpetuating the systems which are causing so much suffering and damage.

Whilst we deliver such confusing and conflicting messages, how can we expect our children to support new less destructive systems which respect animals and the natural world?

Respect for animals and nature is a fundamental part of school curriculums but in most cases the adopted approaches encourage the development of differing levels of concern for different animal species, therefore perpetuating the acceptability of us using certain animals for our own purposes.

deviantart.com/gideonwright - Trashed Earth

We as individuals, our schools and the teachers within them are all in a very special position, we have the opportunity to shape the minds of young people, to influence their behaviours, and to encourage them to make lifelong compassionate choices based on ethical frameworks which respect the lives of all animals and environments.

To really change people's attitudes and subsequently their behaviour to prevent individual animals from suffering we must connect people to these feelings and motives of the animals themselves, and we must do this using positive messaging.

To achieve this we must develop and deliver programmes free from the societal norms which promote animal use for our benefit and replace them with positive animal messaging encompassing all animal life forms regardless of current society views and attitudes as to their individual worth. This should result in a true and effective non-speciesist approach to our educational messages which provide children with details of the true nature of all living beings and how they personally experience the world around them.


Providing children with a thorough understanding of the natural behaviours, cognitive abilities, emotional capacities, and the physical and psychological worlds of all animals however big or small, and the benefits to society through the development of socially aware, compassionate generations, discussing citizens social responsibility to animals as sentient beings, approaches to facilitate positive behaviour towards animals in young people, and the promotion of the 'quality of life' and 'right to life' concepts. Subsequently these concepts must be fully integrated within the school curriculum.

Only through this approach can we guide children into making future choices that truly respect the lives of all animals and minimise the devastating impact that our current behaviours are having on animals and the environment around us.

On World Animal Day please stand side by side with all of the animals that we share our Earth with and not just those that society has chosen worthy of our protection and respect.

Factory farming