Wildlife provides a context for teaching empathy

Parents can use wildlife as a valuable context for teaching their children to care for others.

Karen Saltos | Jan 25, 2020

According to National Wildlife Federation naturalist David Mizejewski, wildlife provides valuable context for teaching children to care about others. "All of these are fellow creatures who need a happy and safe habitat," he said.

Kevin Coyle, the NWF's vice president of education says research shows that even very young kids can develop a sense of caring about things other than themselves. He and Mizejewski agree that parents who want their children to become empathic adults should take time to explore nature with them.

They urge parents to use the following strategies:

1. Create an awareness of backyard wildlife.

The first stage is awareness. Give your child something to focus on. Talk about how the wild animals living around humans deserve respect and understanding.

2. Help local wildlife.

Children need help putting into action what they know and making the connection between something they do and the benefits to others. A good idea is to set up a bird feeder and allow your child to refill it.

3. Plan meaningful outdoor experiences

Getting outside is important for kids' growth. Focus on interpreting nature together. A good place to do this is a park.

4. Learn about lifecycles.

Observing a plant or animal pass through its life cycle can be mesmerizing for children. For example, a monarch butterfly has a four-stage life cycle and only lives for a few weeks. However, a turtle's life cycle is similar to a human's and the phases are egg, hatchling, juvenile and adult.


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