Care Inspectorate Briefing: Animal Magic and Gender-Equal Play

Tracey Jenkins
Everyone’s Children Administration Officer

Everyone’s Children hosted a very enjoyable half day event with the Care Inspectorate on Animal Magic and Gender Equal Play. Presentations were given by Henry Mathias (Care Inspectorate), Fiona McCrindle (Zoo-Education) and Kirsty McQueen (Paws for Progress).

Henry Mathias, Care Inspectorate

Henry highlighted the positive change that has taken place within the Care Inspectorate: from a risk-averse approach to encouraging environments that value learning to care and nurture. Using guidelines from Scotland’s Health and Social Care Standards, they created the Animal Magic resource to support the return of visiting or resident pets, to children in early learning and childcare services. There are lots of experiences shared showing the benefits of animal interaction that is wholly uplifting and inspiring.

One example Henry shared with us was the care of chickens by young children in Camphill School in Aberdeen. They collaborated in the purchase of the coop, created a chicken run and actively care for the chickens by cleaning and feeding them. They also collect the eggs, box them and put them up for sale, reinvesting the proceeds. It is a wonderful learning experience and a community spirit has been created!

The resource delivers confirmation of the therapeutic effect of caring for animals, which can be transformative to excluded children. The interaction provides resilience, nurturing skills, responsibility and teamwork. The need for security, compassion and love is addressed with the children, who can empathise with the same need in animals. You can find the Care Inspectorate’s Youtube channel here if you would like to watch some of the heart-warming stories shared by children and adults in care.

Boudicca the rabbit

Fiona from ZooEd presented us with evidence that children become a lot calmer during and after their experience with her little furry friends. She uses a mindfulness technique ‘Read Right with Rabbits’ with the help of her imperious Lionhead dwarf Boudica Rose, that helps them visualise and encourages them to share their own life stories. The science behind this approach? Oxytocin (love hormone) is released and cortisol (stress hormone) levels reduced, resulting in a happy encounter.

A very important point was made about animal care and the need for the interaction to be mutually beneficial. As we are all aware of the GIRFEC framework, Fiona has suggested a ‘Getting It Right for Every Animal’ approach to ensure we consider the welfare of the animal just as we would consider the child’s.

Kirsty from ‘Paws for Progress’ was good enough to give us a last-minute talk on the amazing work they are doing with children in the community. She was really pleased to see the example Henry gave of a school in Fife partnering up with a guide dog organisation to promote quality interactions between dog and child. Having an awareness of a dog’s body language and reacting to this develops teamwork, social skills and empathy. ‘Cooperation not Control’ is their ethos and careful planning is used to have positive Human-Animal Interaction (HAI). She also provided evidence of this type of engagement leading to a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure, contributing to overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Some resources recommended are ‘Animal Behaviour and Training Council’ and ‘Animal Assisted Play’ by Rice Vanfleet and Tracie Faa-Thompson. Therapet and the Association of Pet Trainers are also great places for advice and guidance.

Finally, Henry discussed Gender Equal Play and the resource the Care Inspectorate produced to positively promote gender equality in early years settings. Practitioners need to have an awareness of gender stereotypes and how this impacts children’s lives. Girls can be emboldened to study STEM subjects nurturing qualities can be encouraged in boys, as well as supporting them to talk about emotions and feelings. A YouTube video (watch here) was discussed where a group of children were visited by a real-life firefighter, surgeon and fighter pilot (all female) to turn gender assumptions on their head. Henry emphasised that we can give children a richer play experience without going to the more contentious end of the current debate around gender and identity. He advised practitioners to discourage activities which lead to a very stark gender divide and encourage those which all children can participate in equally. He also recommended a valuable book by Ali Wood ‘Gender, Sex and Children’s Play’.

Overall, the event was engaging and we look forward to more in the future!

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