Animals in Education



"We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole".

- Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

I learnt about animals and their educational benefits at a school in England: I used to take children horse riding. It was astonishing to see the differences in behaviour at the equestrian centre and then back at school. Now, sat in this busy coffee shop in Hong Kong I can recall the silence from the children as they moved with the rhythm of the horse. A natural precaution was always taken and the children maintained exceptionally focused in order to absorb every ounce of knowledge from the instructor.

I believe that there is wisdom in having animals in schools. I was lucky enough to be invited to feed the animals at The Harbour School and this is what I discovered.

Should we have animals as part of our education? What about sustainability and animals? What’s the impact of introducing animals to students?


It was a gorgeous April morning in Hong Kong, so I took the south island line down to Ap Lei Chau. Sarah, the Marine Biologist who I was due to meet, had arrived earlier than I and was feeding the fish upon my arrival. I entered the school on the ground floor and was surrounded by spacious tanks and touch tanks (oh, and a guinea pig who was staying for the weekend). Sarah and I fed the horseshoe crab - purchased at the market - and she explained how the children would initially refuse to touch the crab, but since have formed a liking to him. The children know his temperament and behaviours (a little bit bossy with a tendency to steal food), and they keep a watchful eye on him whilst caring for the other animals in the tank: sea stars, sea urchins, and sharks. When introducing a new student to the animals, the teachers at the school are given the opportunity to teach children how to treat animals. The introductory stage is particularly important for parents because the amount of kindness a child shows towards animals has strong implications for later life choices.  


Moving around the touch tank, Sarah explained that starfish "eject their stomach" to eat. As a teacher of creative writing I thought about my students and their stories about fictional animals. Could the knowledge of marine animals bring more creativity to their stories? The textures of the shells and scales that I had the chance to touch were fascinating.


We moved on to look at the bamboo sharks, hiding under a little wooden home. Hong Kong is a popular place for shark fin soup and so exposing children to sharks will help them develop their own opinion about the consumption of shark fin. Sharks are fascinating creatures and humans have learnt to fear them ever since the 1975 movie, Jaws. Looking at the sharks, Sarah explained that a male used to share with a female, but they didn’t get along and so the centre released the female and sourced another male. Due to this process the school were blessed with the opportunity to demonstrate the behavioural patterns of sharks. We know little about sharks and their migration patterns, but recent research discovered that sharks swim among their gender and only meet with the opposite sex for reproductive purposes.


It was fascinating to visit a school where curriculum consultants are appreciating the benefits of animal psychology and educators are understanding the global need for teaching sustainability. The environmental issues we are now predicting will be problematic not for us but for our children's children, and thus, why not provide them with the tools to change now.  


 Key Points:

  • Incorporating wildlife in schools enables parents and teachers to study how children treat animals. Psychologists claim that early behaviour towards animals is a big indicator of personality and later life choices.

  • Children develop a sense of responsibility to care for the animals. The responsibility factor helps develop empathy in children.

  • Students learn about animal psychology.

  • Learning about animals expands children's vocabulary! I learnt about ten new words during one trip!

  • I viewed projects which showed evidence of creativity and entrepreneurship!  

  • The children learnt myth-busting facts about sharks! Go shark conservation!

  • Being with animals is therapeutic and relaxing!


Inspired by this blog? Be sure to check out our latest workbook: Sustainability & Marine Animals.  


 “The sea is as near as we come to another world."

- Anne Stevenson


seastar crab.jpeg