Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Animal as Fourth Educator: A Literature Review of Animals and Young Children in Pedagogical Relationships

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

The Animal as Fourth Educator: A Literature Review of Animals and Young Children in Pedagogical Relationships

Article excerpt


Over the past decade there has been a growing awareness of the important role of animals in the lives of children and their families (Myers, 2007; Tipper, 2011). In this literature review I am arguing that there is evidence to support a reconceptualisation of the animal as the fourth educator in early childhood settings. This notion of the fourth educator is a deliberate echo of Loris Malaguzzi's statement that the environment is 'the third educator' (Gandini, 1998, p. 177), the first two being the team of two teachers always present in the Italian preschools of Reggio Emilia. Malaguzzi described the environment in these early childhood settings as 'a space that teaches' (Gandini, 1998, p. 177). This idea is expanded here to include the animal that is almost always present in one form or another in Western early childhood environments.

In early childhood education the animal as teacher is a taken-for-granted pedagogical force. My approach in making this argument is to review the research literature and add to a field that increasingly recognises the importance of the animal in the social worlds of children. These connections take diverse forms and in early childhood may link to family life, to play and to all learning that supports a blurred boundary between self and Other (Bone, 2010). Increased interest in the animal may also be the result of concern about environmental issues along with a growing recognition that the environment is never empty but is always a habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insect life and together we are all part of the ecological systems we exist within.

Contemporary ideas, theoretical perspectives and influences from the past are acknowledged. Finally, attention is paid to the research literature that explores what happens when the animal is a robot or virtual pet.

Starting with the animal

A Kato Creation Story states that when God went forth to create the world he took his dog with him (Gaita, 2002). Gaita (2002) looks at the relationship between people, dogs and philosophy and makes the point that throughout history the animal of one kind or another, wild, domesticated or confined, has been living alongside people (Gaita, 2002; Melson, 2001; Serpell, 1999). To continue to get along together has long been seen as the key to our future survival, a 'project for a planet' (Flannery, 2013, p. 77). While the word 'animal' means different things to different people, the relationship has existed for a long time.

From an Australian perspective, Krien (2011) says that '2011 was a big year for animals' (p. 3) and she notes the flood of animal-printed clothing evident on the street and increased media publicity for controversial animal issues. In that year young children were involved in protests about the iii treatment of animals and joined demonstrations organised by animal protection agencies (see websites below). Images of these protests on websites show that animal issues can cause great debate and be very emotive. The posters carried during the protest urge kindness to animals and there is growing support for Luk, Staiger and Wong's (1999, p. 35) contention that not being kind is 'a serious social issue'. The presence of children at the protests is a reminder that they participate in society in many roles; as children become conscious of their own ability to contribute they may also become more aware of the rights of others. There is a likelihood that these children have pets at home. In a survey of children aged 10-16 years in Slovakia, Prokop and Tunnicliffe (2010) found that ownership of animals meant that the attitude toward all other animals, including those considered fearful or 'disgusting', was more positive.

Wilson's (1984) 'biophilia' hypothesis suggested that positive thoughts about living things encourage love of the environment and this has been explored in terms of children's development (Kahn, 1997) and more recently in work about children and their interactions in the natural world (Louv, 2008). …

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