Modern-day children have been shown to have an egocentric tendency at an early stage of their cognitive and moral development. They seem to lack understanding of, sympathy for and appreciation of non-human animals and the ecosystem. In order to help children develop a pro-environmental perspective early, Ngai et al. launched a pilot study which involved establishing an animal-assisted school-based humane education programme – CARing Kids – in an attempt to educate children on empathy and prosocial behaviours through social and emotional learning (SEL).
The CARing Kids programme involved a canine-companion reading activity. A corpus of 110 students from two primary schools participated in six sessions of picture story book reading in the company of a canine, followed by a discussion of the story. This offered children the opportunity to have direct interaction with service canines to build up their empathy and kindness.
Analysis showed that students who joined the CARing Kids programme as a class received a more positive long-term impact on the development of their empathy (t = 2.94, p < .01) and cognitive competence (t = 2.42, p = .02) than those who were individually assigned to the programme by teachers. Class-recruited participants also showed a short-term reduction of hyperactivity (t = 2.40, p = .02). The evidence indicates that SEL competence programmes such as CARing Kids work best if implemented at a class-based level. Further qualitative analysis revealed that those students became more capable of containing their excitement and behaviour during lessons. They showed a reduction in physical aggressive behaviours, such as fighting and bullying, in addition to improvement in anger management. Students also exhibited a more humane attitude through the programme, learning how to overcome fear of canines and developed a positive perception towards the animals.
Ngai, J.T.K., Yu, R.W.M., Chau, K.K.Y., & Wong, P.W.C. (2021). Effectiveness of a school-based programme of animal-assisted humane education in Hong Kong for the promotion of social and emotional learning: A quasi-experimental pilot study. PLoS ONE, 16(3): e0249033. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0249033