Learning about animals is crucial if we want to protect biodiversity

‘Catastrophic decline’ is the quote used in the BBC headline accompanying yet another authoritative report warning of the threat to the Earth’s animal life. This particular report, published by the conservation group WWF in 2020, states that wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years and that one million species are threatened with extinction. We of course need immediate and decisive action to prevent such a calamitous eventuality, but we also need a comprehensive long-term strategy, including education. Learning about animals should be a primary-school curriculum priority so that our children grow up with an understanding of the need to care for animals, preserve diversity, protect habitats and manage the use of animals in sustainable ways to the mutual benefit of humans and the planet.

The numbers relating to the decline in the Earth’s wildlife populations in recent decades are staggering. A combination of factors, largely caused by humans — including accelerated climate change, habitat destruction through land misuse, exploitation and degradation, and waste and pollution — is stripping the planet of its much-needed biodiversity; it is reducing the variety of animal life at every level — insects, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians and mammals on land and in the sea — and damaging humankind’s prospects of survival as a species.

As we posted in our article The curriculum should reflect children’s interest in the environment and nature, there is a huge amount of evidence that children and young people care deeply about the environment. They want to know more. They want to play their part in supporting animal life and guaranteeing a sustainable future. However, too many children are currently switched off learning as they struggle to see its relevance.

The Forum for Life-Based Learning advocates an approach aimed at improving children’s motivation to learn by delivering the subject content of the national curriculum through nine life themes that directly address the challenges that they — that all of us — face. An Animal Life learning theme would harness content and skills from applied science, geography and environmental studies to prioritise learning about animals.

Key areas of learning must include:

  • The importance of animals to human life
  • Threats to animal environments, wellbeing and survival
  • Living sustainably

There are lots of ways that schools can connect children to the natural world, such as:

  • exploring the world of pets
  • engaging children in the creation of school grounds habitats
  • learning about wildlife through zoos, eco-parks, nature reserves and wildlife areas

The US website Pets in the Classroom explains how the presence of pets in children’s everyday learning space can be an immensely enriching educational experience. Benefits include:

  • enabling children with little or no exposure to animals or nature at home to see, feel, touch and connect with the world of animals
  • nurturing in children a sense of responsibility and respect for life, increasing sensitivity and awareness of the feelings and needs of others — both animals and humans
  • helping children to appreciate that all living things need more than just food and water for survival
  • lessening tensions and feelings of aggression and improving mental health

As lockdown restrictions gradually ease, visits to zoos and wildlife centres can again become part of children’s learning experience. Most zoo websites are packed with lots of user-friendly information. Many websites also have an area specifically for schools and educators. For example, the website of Chester Zoo (close to this writer’s home) includes details of a special five-session educational package “with activities that fit in to many areas of the curriculum (maths, literacy, history, geography, science) but also offer the wellbeing benefits of getting outdoors, getting active and making a difference”. It also has a large collection of free learning resources for children of all ages.

Chester Zoo’s website features in the Links area of the Forum website. There is a page for each of the nine life-based learning themes, with links (a) to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning (b) to a range of information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

We are always looking to expand the Links area of the website and welcome suggestions for additional links to high-quality websites. You can contact us here.

Chester Zoo

Pets in the Classroom (US website)

Young People’s Trust for the Environment

The image at the head of this article is from the website of Chester Zoo.

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