The Benefits of Animal Observation and Care for Communication and Learning
Many of you have had the opportunity to visit the Potato House and meet our sheep and chickens- they are so great! As the heat of summer dies off and it’s been more enjoyable to hold sessions outside, we thought it an opportune time to share more about the benefits of caring for animals for both communication and learning!
We’ve broken the benefits down into four large categories, but our list is by no means exhaustive. There are truly so many benefits to caring for other living beings. Here’s why we love to incorporate animal care and observation into our sessions as much as possible:
Responsibility and Task Management: For many of our clients who regularly help “hands on” with the animals by feeding them treats, brushing them, changing water, and spending time with them, animal care is a responsibility that requires many skills. These skills include prioritization of session activities to make time for animal care, sequencing the order of animal care tasks (i.e. clean water bowl before refilling), time management, initiation and follow-through. Accountability related to animal care can transfer over into the home as well, especially with pets, but also with self-care and household chores!
Observational Skills and Empathy: Most animals communicate through their behavior and body language, and our sheep and chickens are no different. Clients have the opportunity to practice observation skills that allow them to recognize the animals’ cues, interpret their needs, and build empathy. The enhanced ability to recognize nonverbal cues in animals can be instrumental in our clients’ interactions with humans and their understanding of human emotions, too. In some cases, responding to animal needs can involve trial and error, which is an additional learning experience and fosters basic problem solving skills.
Mindfulness: Spending time with animals offers numerous opportunities to practice mindfulness by sitting with the animals and nature, and noticing the present moment via smells, sounds, sights, feelings, and more. We particularly enjoy sitting on the bench by the sheep pen, which is shady for much of the day, to practice short meditations. Sitting with the animals also offers moments of calm for clients who benefit from environmental changes to support emotional and sensory regulation.
Effective Communication: With all of the skills mentioned above, the ability to communicate ideas, observations, questions, rationale for decision, etc. is at the forefront of it all. Animal care can require asking for an adult’s help, comprehension when learning how to do each animal care task, collaboration with others and/or delegation of tasks, articulation of sounds to ensure thoughts are understood by collaborators, and modulation of tone/volume so as not to scare the animals.
There are so many additional benefits to caring for and spending time with animals not listed in this blog post. These skills can be valuable in fostering personal growth and interpersonal relationships by instilling responsibility, honing empathy, practicing mindfulness, and improving communication abilities.