Education & Advocacy

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Animals & Empathy Elementary Program

One Heart Wild's Animals & Empathy Elementary Classroom Program was the first RedRover Readers-based program in Washington State and has since grown in breadth and depth through a diverse social, emotional, empathy and nature based curriculum, Animals & Empathy explores positive relationships between people and animals, wild and domestic, through stories and discussion. Through story, children share information about animals, reflect on the roles of animals in their communities and determine our responsibilities toward them. Exploring perspective-taking is a key component and a precursor to building empathy.

In the image above, Animals & Empathy Trainer, Donna Van Renselaar, is shown presenting an Animals & Empathy classroom session to 3rd & 4th graders.

One Heart Wild volunteers are trained in the innovative Animals & Empathy curriculum to read to students and lead discussions, helping children develop critical thinking skills and increase their level of empathy for people and animals.  

Animals & Empathy curriculum is fundamentally aligned with One Heart Wild's mission of increasing resilience, empathy and social and emotional skills for youth in our community and the world at-large.

What is the Animals & Empathy Elementary School Program?

This unique community-based social and emotional learning program is aligned with academic content standards and helps children explore the bond between people and animals through stories and discussion. One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary volunteers who are trained in the Animals & Empathy curriculum read to children and lead discussions – helping children increase their level of empathy for people and animals, wild and domestic.

Interested in bringing Animals & Empathy Program to your classroom, youth group, home-school group, or library?

We are excited to team with teachers, parents, librarians, and youth group leaders to bring this very important and impactful program to your youth. A team of volunteers will work with your group leader to set up a series of five 45 minute sessions, followed by an integrated field trip to One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary, where we bring the learning and creativity to you.

Here is what one of our Animals & Empathy teachers had to say about bringing this One Heart Wild program to her classroom:

"As a classroom teacher, implementing the Animals & Empathy program has fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation for animals in our class.  My students are excited and engaged during every lesson, while they learn about specific animals and how to care for them and show empathy toward them.  The hands-on activities and stories have added so much more depth to our normal curriculum demands. Each lesson follows the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts, yet facilitates critical thinking skills and empowers students to feel safe and comfortable in their discussions regarding showing empathy towards animals.  The students adored "Boppy the Chicken" visiting our class, and can hardly wait for the field trip to the sanctuary.  I would highly recommend ALL teachers, find the time, even with curriculum and testing demands to incorporate this program into their Literacy lessons." 

Jennifer Youngker

2/3 Highly Capable

Kitsap Lake Elementary

Contact us at One Heart Wild if you would like one of our trained Animals & Empathy volunteers to contact you or if you would like to talk more about the program and how it may benefit your students.



2009 pilot study by Laura Stokes, Ph.D. with assistance from Dawn Robles:

Developing Children's Awareness of the Human-Animal Bond: As Assessment of the Experiences and Benefits that Children Recieve in the United Animal Nation's Humane Education Ambassador Readers Program.

Benefits found for the students:

  • Builds self-esteem and motivates students to take an important subject seriously
  • Stimulates additional student-directed learning
  • Builds students’ knowledge and potentially affects their behaviors related to caring for pets
  • Builds students’ empathy and compassion for pets

Benefits found for the teachers:

  • Adds joy and creativity to teaching and learning
  • Addresses a human development issue that teachers care about
  • Address goals for student literacy
  • Can infuse seamlessly into language arts cirriculum

Human-Nonhuman Animal Bond
The program is built around the core theme of the human-animal bond as it is represented in the person/family-pet relationship. Embedded in this theme are several assumptions: that animals (pets) are dependent on humans for their basic needs and welfare; that pets are sensitive and have feelings such as sadness/happiness and fear/security; and that pets and humans are capable of communicating with and learning from one another, and of forming relationships that are mutually beneficial. All elements of the model, from the literature to the volunteer training, are anchored to and reinforce this theme and these assumptions. 

A sequence of five weekly sessions 
Classroom time is not an isolated experience; rather, children experience five weekly sessions that take 30-60 minutes each. Each session focuses on a different book. This continuity enables the program to take a cumulative approach, starting with books that are relatively simple and moving toward those that are more complex conceptually, while inviting students to recall and synthesize what they gain from multiple sessions. This design intends to make the experience more memorable and give it lasting impact. 

Developing perspective-taking through critical thinking
The main theme is the human-animal bond. Factual knowledge such as what we discuss above—pets’ traits and the basic needs that owners need to provide for—are vital to children’s ability to form such bonds. However, facts are not all that children need in order to develop an appreciation of the human-animal bond that might evolve into a lasting orientation toward care for living creatures. People also need empathy and compassion to form and sustain human animal bonds. To move children toward these traits classroom experience with One Heart Wild Education Sanctuary staff attempts to develop students’ ability to adopt others’ perspectives through discussions of stories.

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