Outdoor Education Cookbook: Empathy Towards Wildlife (Early Years Lesson – Cleaning Animals)

Earlier this year, when schools closed across the globe and many went to online learning, our Pre-Kindergarten year-level team wanted to focus on some causes of what would eventually become a pandemic.

At the time, it was coming out in the news that the source of the virus was a wild animal market.

Many questions about animal welfare and human safety arose.

We wanted to touch on this subject with our young learners, but how could we do it appropriately?

As someone who has taught about conservation and climate change for years, I knew that going the “doom and gloom” way is never as effective as keeping things positive with learners. We decided to come up with a lesson about caring for animals.

This was a lesson students did as part of home learning, but you can absolutely do this in your classroom or even better, outdoors where dirt can be found!

The purpose of this lesson is to grow empathy towards animals and wildlife.


Keeping Animals Clean:

Leading up to this activity, you can have conversations with your class about their needs as children. What do they need in order to survive? (food, water, shelter, love, a guardian) What do they need to make them happy? (friends, a new toy, their favorite blanket)

What do animals need to survive? What do animals need to be happy?



1. Find two bowls or other containers. Fill one with dirt, or something else messy. Fill the other with soapy water.

2.  Find some toy animals who could use a good cleaning. Now, play with them in the dirt! Make up a game with them if you like. Think about what they might be doing or why they got dirty.

3. Now, it’s time to help them get clean. Using old toothbrushes, washcloths, or just your hands, help wash your animals. Think about how animals get clean in the wild. What do you think they do? What about pets? How do they take baths?

Reflection Questions for students:

How did it make you feel to help these animals get clean? What could happen to an animal if it gets too dirty? Are there people in the world who help animals? How do you think the animals felt after you helped them?


Follow up:

This background knowledge they now have and reflection on their feelings would be perfect to help them understand more the role of a wildlife rehabber. A connection with a local wildlife rehab center could be made and possibly have someone visit your class to talk about the importance of their real-world job.


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During this lesson, one parent brought her daughter to a place where she could interact with real animals and develop her empathy even more.


About the Podcaster/Writer:

Kevin O’Shea is a PYP/Nature/Outdoor educator currently based in Shenzhen, China (currently in Japan). He is a father, husband, and avid naturalist. Kevin is an advocate for outdoor play and nature education.  He was the host of the long-running Just Japan Podcast and the  Making Better Teachers Podcast!

Twitter: @MadForMaple

Instagram: @shizenwildlife

Facebook: Making Better Teachers

Email: makingbetterteachers@gmail.com



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