Critter Corner: Too Much of a Good Thing
Helping kids learn to love (but not overwhelm) new pets is easier with these four steps.
There isn't a parent in the world who thinks "I don't have enough things to do- lets get some pets for me to take care of". Sure you may fall in love with an animal, but more often than not it is your little ones who clamor for a fish, hamster, kitten or puppy.
Take a cue from lesson plans to gauge their interest and stick-to-it-ness. An observation journal can help with planning and pave the way for the initial getting acquainted period.
A research and observation journal can be adapted to a child of any age.
- Step one: get an official notebook and dedicate it to this project. The child's name and mission statement should be on the cover. For example Lucy's Research and Observation Journal of Me and My Future Cat Keep Out! The cover can be decorated with cut-outs from magazines what a future cat might look like, what they would eat, the kinds of things they like to play with etc.
- Step two: Have the child observe people and write down their activities. See which activities the pet would do as well. For example: sleep, go to the bathroom, play, eat, do homework, be with family, go to the doctor. This would be an opportunity to explain that the pet can't get food for itself, needs to be walked or the litter box cleaned, likes being with its family, but needs to learn new things and spend some time by itself as well.
- Step three: Have them research the different types of animal they like and their special requirements, including how to bring the pet home to a new environment. Make a trip to the library, pet store, interview friends and family and look on the Internet. This information should be noted and rated. For example a good book might get a five star rating, while a fictional story might get one star.
- Step four: If the groundwork has been through enough to warrant a pet, the next part of the observation journal could be a life saver- both for the pet and the adult in charge of supervising play. A child can easily overwhelm a pet with too much hands on attention. Before the playing deteriorated into a hiss, scratch or wild leap for freedom from a hug it is time to bring out the observation journal. This is where your child's inner Sherlock Homes can shine. Have then write or draw what they see. An example might be "I hug kitty- he wiggles- if I don't let go he scratches and won't play with me again" "If I don't want scratches I must let go" or "when kitty sees me near the food he rubs against my legs" "This means he wants to eat".
Check the journal once a week and review growth, activities and general progress. Keeping a journal will help keep you child occupied and interacting with the pet, while helping maintain some much needed distance for a small animal.
If you would like some more information about journal keeping search for children's science journals- tools for teaching.