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Teach Children To Value Animals
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Learning how to treat animals is an important step in a child's educational process.
Tom Miller, owner of Sunshine Farms in Noxubee County, said allowing children the opportunity to interact with various animals is beneficial academically and socially.
"We want children to learn how to love and respect animals. If they learn that at an early age, they will have learned how to love and respect human beings," Miller said.
Sunshine Farms is among a small number of recreational farms that are becoming popular among school and day-care groups. Visitors have the opportunity to see traditional farm animals as well as exotic and nontraditional species.
"Our spring program features baby animals, which always appeal to children and adults," Miller said. "Children learn so much by seeing, hearing, smelling and touching animals."
Dr. Louise Davis, extension family and child development specialist at Mississippi State University, agreed.
"Children can learn many of life's lessons from animals. These include how to be responsible and how to love and be loved," Davis said. "Some of those lessons of life can be painful, like dealing with disappointment and death."
Davis said adults should carefully expose their children to animals, especially on first encounters.
"Both the young child and the animal can be at risk of being hurt. Children need to be taught to be cautious and gentle," she said.
Miller said parents often are more excited about a child's first encounter with an animal than the child is. Adults should help children overcome their fears slowly -- at each child's pace.
"Encourage, but don't insist, that children interact with animals," Miller said. "By taking their time, children can establish relationships that will last the animal's lifetime."
After carefully selecting a pet for a child, Davis said parents should have realistic expectations for that child's ability to care for the animal.
"Children under age 8 have no concept of time. They may not fully realize the importance of daily care," Davis said. "Children have trouble understanding abstract concepts like `taking care' of the animal. Give them specific directions and daily check lists to make sure they fulfill their duties."
Davis said caring for an animal can teach responsibilty without it being a burden. When a child begins to resent an animal, parents may need to step in and find an alternative for the pets' care.