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The role of animals in ECE centres and schools

Animals are brought into school classrooms or early childhood education (ECE) centres for a number of reasons. These include:

  • for display as loved pets
  • as classroom or centre pets
  • for school or ECE centre pet days
  • for science or biology teaching
  • for science fair projects
  • to encourage classmates to share their interest in living things.

The use of animals in New Zealand is governed by various laws. The purpose of this publication is to ensure that teachers, early childhood educators and managers, boards of trustees, students, and young children are aware of their responsibilities and have the information necessary to care for their animals properly and according to the law.

There are advantages for young children and students in acquiring a knowledge of animals in their formative years.

Animals of all kinds play an important part in the lives of people and attitudes towards other animals depend to a great extent on knowledge acquired in the formative years. If students (and young children) are encouraged, under sympathetic guidance, to study, handle and look after animals they should develop a positive, concerned attitude (sic). For many children, (an ECE centre or) a school may be the only place where this experience can be gained and where respect for animals can be learned. Animals in (ECE centres and) schools provide a number of educational benefits linked to the New Zealand Science Curriculum including:

  • opportunities for detailed observation and investigation of the animal way of life, animal structure, behaviour, growth and life histories. 
    • New Zealand Curriculum Science L1/2 : Life processes – Recognise that all living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive. Ecology - Recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat. Investigating in science – Extend their experiences and personal explanations of the natural world through exploration, play, asking questions, and discussing simple models.
  • identification and investigation of the normal range of environmental factors influencing living animals emphasising an appreciation of the importance of environmental protection. 
    • New Zealand Curriculum Science L3 : Ecology – Explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human induced. Investigating in science – Build on prior experiences, working together to share and examine their own and others’ knowledge. Participating and contributing – Use their growing science knowledge when considering issues of concern to them.
  • contributions to the personal development of students (and young children) by shared responsibility for animal welfare, establishment of caring attitudes, and introduction to potential life-long interests involving animals. 
  • contributions to the social education of children through observations of animal behaviour and discussion of reproduction, social interactions and life history – leading to an appreciation of the material and social needs of animals – including human beings. 
    • New Zealand Curriculum Science L1/2 :  Life processes – Recognise that all living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive. Ecology – Recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat. Investigating in science – Extend their experiences and personal explanations of the natural world through exploration, play, asking questions, and discussing simple models.)
  • stimulation to do creative work and encourage the aesthetic appreciation of animals
  • contributions to the personal development of students (and young children) by shared responsibility for animal welfare, establishment of caring attitudes, and introduction to potential life-long interests involving animals. 

Department of Education, Code of Ethical Conduct for the Care and Use of Animals in School Programmes, 1987, pages 2–3.

PDF icon. Code of ethical conduct for the use of animals (PDF 2 MB)

Page updated: July 2017


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