"The animal man's coming!": the benefits of experiential animal visits to schools

Dale Preece-Kelly

Dale is the founder of Critterish Allsorts, an independent provider of animal education and animal assisted therapy to primary schools, hospitals and various events.

Follow @CritterishUK

Website: www.critterishallsorts.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Experiential learning is an effective way of leaving children with a lasting memory of both the day's activities and the information taught.

Ask anybody in their 20s or 30s what they remember about school, and many will tell you, "The visits from the animal man!".

These animal visits have been taking place for the last 30 years, but now there is a wealth of independent, professional and reputable providers, all of whom offer something different at a very competitive rate.

The tools for learning are the animals – alive, breathing, moving - and the subject is taught using the animals as an experiential tool. The children do not just get to see the animals – for some an experience in itself – but touch, feel and even hold them.

Whilst they are doing all of this, they are also being engaged by the 'animal person' in a two-way discussion; answering questions asked of them and asking questions to gain more knowledge of a particular species, habitat or country.

A good animal experience will engage the children and hold their attention in a wide variety of topics. That's right, it's not just 'The Living World' or 'Mini Beasts' that these animal days deal with! Art, creative writing, citizenship, geography, countries, habitats, history or even maths can be covered with presentations or interactive workshops.

By giving children the opportunity to interact with animals that they may otherwise only see behind glass at a zoo or on TV, children can gain a greater understanding and appreciation for both the subject being taught and, just as importantly, the natural world that surrounds them. Experiencing the animals in real life right in front of them gives the children a real feel for what they are learning.

With school trips becoming less affordable for school budgets, the experiential visit from an outside provider is a better option. In addition, by bringing the experience in-house, it becomes much easier to provide staffing and supervision.

5 tips for choosing the right provider

  • Ensure all of the correct paperwork can be supplied – ask for it (so few schools do!) : CRB / DBS Certificate; Public Liability Insurance; Performing Animals Licence; Risk Assessment are all required – a good provider will supply these electronically to you, but beware as some companies operate outside these requirements

  • Look for feedback on the provider’s website from other schools (maybe even follow some up to ensure they are genuine)

  • Call or email the provider and discuss the subject you would like the visit to cover. Ask what the provider can do for you – a good provider will suggest several different options

  • Ask for an idea of the animals they will be bringing into the classroom – some providers will bring nothing more than frog spawn for a mini beast session, where as a good provider will bring a wide range of mini beasts to excite their young audience

  • Ask if the provider supplies any kind of learning materials, for after-session consolidation – a good provider will supply age/key-stage appropriate worksheets that fit in with the theme of the day

Has your school ever held an animal education day for your pupils, or do you remember experiencing one yourself many moons ago? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter (@InnovateMySchl).

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