There is nothing like seeing a child play with an animal. Not only are these interactions, well, adorable, but they also set the foundation for that child’s future relationship with animals. Studies have shown that children who grow up with pets are more empathetic and have lower levels of anxiety. While these studies focus on cats and dogs, many people see the same benefits from interactions with all types of animals, including farm animals. Because really, who wouldn’t feel more relaxed after hugging a cow or playing with a chicken?
The benefits of interacting with animals are so powerful for children of all backgrounds that many farm animal sanctuaries offer programs specifically targeted at kids. These programs allow people and animals the chance to better understand one another. There is such a wide variety of sanctuaries to choose from that you can find a program to fit any need or budget; a few of these programs are highlighted below. These will definitely make you wish you were a kid again so you could go to camp!
1. Catskill Animal Sanctuary, New York
Catskill Animal Sanctuary is located in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on 110 acres of lush land. In addition to providing a home to over 3,500 animals and running tours for visitors, the sanctuary runs Camp Kindness.
Camp Kindness is a summer day camp for children ages eight to fourteen. The focus of the camp is to teach compassion for all living creatures with an emphasis on farm animals and environmental stewardship. This is accomplished through a wide variety of activities including feeding goats, grooming horses, making animal-friendly crafts and vegan cooking classes. Clearly, kids get to have all the fun.
These interactions teach children to notice the similarities between people and animals and learn to see these creatures as more than commodities (Some adults could benefit from this lesson, as well.). At the end of the camp, kids know how to make a positive impact on the world as they get older. Now that’s way better than most camps that teach you how to make mediocre s’mores and put up a tent.
2. Gentle Barn, California
Gentle Barn is a sanctuary located on six acres of land in Santa Clarita, CA that is home to over 170 rescued animals. One of the main missions of Gentle Barn is to create a peaceful future for children. The sanctuary’s founders are working to achieve this future through a variety of programs that enable children to interact with farmed animals. Teaching kids to be compassionate for these animals who are so different than they are, children learn how to extend this compassion to every aspect of their lives.
The Gentle Barn offers programs for special needs kids, at-risk youth and more general school programs. The program for at-risk children allows kids who may have been abused in their past to connect with animals who were also abused. This special connection helps kids to open up and learn how to handle difficult situations.
School programs for grades K-12 aim to show children the similarities between people and animals. Offering insight into animal behavior and teaching children how to interpret different forms of animal communication, kids get a chance to care for the animals – and even rub a few pig tummies. We have to say this is definitely a step up from reading a textbook or watching a video.
3. Heartland Farm Sanctuary, Wisconsin
Heartland Farm Sanctuary, located in Wisconsin, opened in 2010 with the unique mission of helping farm animals and vulnerable children. This awesome sanctuary offers a variety of interesting camp options. Two of their biggest programs are their Spring Camp and Camp Heartland. The Spring Camp is an eight-week program that runs from April to June. It includes projects, team building games and a lot of time caring for and visiting the rescued animals.
Camp Heartland is a multi-faceted program that includes ten sessions in the summer, each a week long. Each week focuses on a different theme and age group, but all include playing with the animals, barn chores and related activities. Any camp that makes chores fun should appeal to parents. All sound like great options for teaching children compassion – and an excellent excuse to spend the summer playing with animals!