2012-08-09 / News

Compassion toward animals is the focus of weeklong workshop

Humane society offers free program for youngsters

Kindness toward animals includes the amazing creatures that live in the Rhode Island woods, says Jane Koster of the Humane Society of Jamestown.

At a free five-day children’s workshop that starts Monday, Aug. 13, the children will tell stories about their encounters with woodland animals. Teacher Ann Marie Lepre, who gave the workshop last summer, returns to teach youngsters about respect for wild mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

“It’s kids telling stories about animals,” said Rosemary Forbes- Woodside, president of the humane society. The theme, she said, is for children to treat animals as they would like to be treated themselves. The goal is trying to get kids to understand that. “The younger they are, the better.”

This is the second year the society has offered the workshop for children ages 8 and 9. The program is titled “A Week of Woodland Animals.” This year, the children will again learn about five woodland animals. (Which animals they will be is a secret.) Lepre will cover animal anatomy, habitat, food preferences and its impact on the ecosystem.

The children will also play games and do some art projects.

The weeklong workshop runs from 10 to 11:15 a.m. at the library. To register, parents should send a completed registration form to the Humane Society of Jamestown, P.O. Box 681, Jamestown, RI 02835. Applications can be picked up at the library and at the rec center, or by calling 423-1465.

The workshop is a condensed version of the course developed for third-grade children by the late Mary Stearns McGaughan. That curriculum laid the foundation of the society’s entire effort to foster humane treatment of all animals, including farm animals, pets and wildlife, Koster said.

The society’s effort starts with the 8-year-old set and follows up with the older children by offering an essay contest for the eighthgrade students.

Board members like Beth Weibust also promote independent education efforts. Weibust, a retired teacher, brings incubators from Casey Farm into the schools and nursing homes, so the children and the seniors can see the chicks hatch. The chicks stay at school or at the nursing home for a bit after they arrive, and then Weibust returns them to the farm.

Besides education, the society sponsors a number of programs, such as the society’s compassionate response fund. That fund offers financial assistance to residents needing help with veterinary bills and emergencies. Society members also give rebates for spay and neutering, and offer help with feral cats.

The society supports legislative efforts to end cruelty towards animals, Koster said.

A number of animal-cruelty incidents spurred McGaughan, the society’s founder, to create the humane education program 30 years ago. Originally, the humane education program had three parts – one on pets, one on wildlife and one on ecological systems.

Jan Martin, a retired teacher, still presents the section on domestic animals to third-graders at the Melrose Avenue School. The Jamestown schools dropped the woodland animals and ecology sections around 1995, due to time constraints, Koster said.

Ideally, Forbes-Woodside said, the society would like to bring the entire humane education program back to the Jamestown schools. “It’s still our mission and goal to bring much of the curriculum back into the classroom.”

She added that everyone understands how state mandates and educational testing has reduced the time available for enrichment programs like teaching children about compassion for animals. However, the whole three sections establish the basics about how children should care for animals, Koster said.

Lepre, who currently teaches the complete unit on wildlife and woodland animals in the South Kingstown schools, has updated the course to reflect today’s standards.

“She has brought the entire curriculum up to standards in science,” Koster said. Lepre refreshed the visual aids, which are typically posters. She has also continued to stress the value of storytelling and dialogue, and has resisted the use of video and other high-technology learning aids.

Lepre said she’s keeping the names of this workshop’s five woodland animals a secret until the workshop starts. She doesn’t want to spoil the surprise, she said, since the children will discover the different animals by playing a guessing game.

Some of the animals will belong to species the youngsters will recognize as backyard visitors, she said, but the other animals may be unfamiliar.

“They definitely will be learning things they don’t know,” she said. “Children have a natural love and curiosity for animals, but they don’t necessarily know a lot about them.”

Lepre said that the workshop is designed to pique their natural interest and spark curiosity and respect for these animals.

“They learn a lot about compassion,” she said, and went on to explain the lessons spill over into “life in general.” They tell true stories about seeing another child hurl a rock at an animal, for example, and they talk about why animals deserve kind treatment.

Forbes-Woodside said numerous studies have documented the link between cruelty to animals and subsequent violence against animals and people.

“This is the age when children start to learn about compassion,” Koster said.

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