How does a child react when interacting with an animal? Smiling, the entire body filled with enthusiasm and exhilaration? Small fingers enjoying and learning from the experience of touching the pet's fur? Watchful eyes fixed on the animal and, you just know it, questions about to start pouring?
Or perhaps a child may close his eyes to feel the pet he is holding, to become one with it... "I am a horse..." "I am a rabbit..." "I am a lion cub on the African plains..." "I am alive!" Children, just like animals, live in the present; where the heart pulsates and the wind is fragrant, if only you pay attention.
When a child meets an animal, there is a much stronger connection that takes place. It goes beyond the sensory or the visual stimulation of touching and observing. For a child, being in the company of an animal is more significant than the educational lesson adults want them to take from it.
A biological connection is already in place when a child and an animal meet. Be it an animal or an insect, just by being different to us, they a child's attention –– in most cases, to stir his or her caring and nurturing instinct. Children have it in their hearts: the empathy, the understanding that what is small needs to be protected, as well as the desire and the need to look after it and nurture it.
As Kahlil Gibran put it, "Your children are not your children; they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself."
Human's interest in animals is wired into our DNA.
"Biophilia" was defined in 1984 by E.O.Wilson as "the innate tendency [in human beings] to focus on life and lifelike process. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hopes rises on its currents". The disposition towards nature and the living is prominent in youngsters. Children flourish when they are outdoors, especially when interacting with living animals.
Children value creatures for what they really are, alive. A kid connects with a ladybird just as well as she bonds with a kitten or a horse. When we take our children to the zoo, the link (unseen, between children and animals) is already in place.
The invisible wire is what keeps our youngster glued to the cage of an elephant, or the aquarium and its penguins. The child has "seen" more than the animal in its natural habitat. He treasures and celebrates having met another living being. And this moment often becomes one of a child's most treasured memories.
What is different from us should and can be treasured, just because it is puzzling and thrilling and, at the same time, stimulating.
Think about how much children enjoy stories about animals. Why is that? Wild animals live in "shelters" that are different from ours, and which they build themselves! Animals find their own, food and it is often strange-looking and so different from ours. Animals can do so many other things we haven't seen any human being doing. Animals choose their own special lives, and we are but blessed to be a part of them –– to observe and enjoy them.
If this is not enough, there is also an added benefit to children's natural bond with living things. Studies show that when a child's innate love and care towards nature is being nurtured and encouraged, it not only fuels the child's inner desire to learn, but in the long run, it develops the child emotionally.
Children who are understood and encouraged to care for animals will grow into thoughtful adults with a higher EQ (Emotional Quotient). An individual with a high EQ will be better able to recognise and express their own emotions, as well as the emotions of those around them. They will be able to easily put them into words and analyse them, then react in consequence –– a vital task in improving our social skills and, by extension, the social welfare of each generation.