Classroom Resources

As a critical component of education…

in Alberta, character development is identified as an outcome for learning in the 2020 Ministerial Order. Building positive relationships and demonstrating responsibility, empathy, compassion and prosocial behaviours are goals that teachers are obligated to infuse in their teaching. Although many forms of character education are present in schools, consideration of animals in the context of character education is often absent. However, research suggests that attitudes towards animals and a concern for their welfare is related to attitudes towards, and treatment of people.1

Animals are also intrinsically interesting, part of families and communities, and connect us to the natural world.  Therefore, including them when exploring character and citizenship, can be motivating and inclusive. 

Including animals:

     The benefits to students

Humane education programs have been found to increase prosocial behaviours in young people. 2,3 In 2018, W.E. Samuels published one of the largest humane education studies to date involving more than 2000 Grade 1 and 2 students. Teachers delivered a humane education program that consisted of student-centered activities that drew on the students’ experiences to promote care for animals, people, and the environment. The results of the study found that those who participated in the program showed significant improvements in prosociality, while their fellow students who did not participate demonstrated no significant improvements. 

     The benefits to animals

It makes sense that consideration of animals when exploring responsibility, respect, empathy and other character traits will benefit animals. Although few, if any, studies have explored how humane education impacts the treatment of animals (this is difficult to measure!), there are studies that have demonstrated other positive outcomes. Studies have shown an array of benefits including: increases in knowledge about animal welfare concepts,4,5,6,7  empathy levels,8,9,10  sense of responsibility towards animals,11  positive attitudes towards animals,12,13 and belief in animal mind.6 It’s important to note that not all studies demonstrate significant changes in students. Programs featured in these studies varied in length, content, delivery, audience, etc. For instance, programs that occur over a longer period of time are more likely to result in changes to attitudes and behaviours than shorter programs.7


Empathy is at the heart of humane education and is fundamental to character education. Put simply, empathy, involves “understanding, sharing, and caring about the emotions of others.”14 However, empathy is complex and can lead to some potential issues. By practising empathy– through exercises that have us consider the thoughts and feelings of others – including those who we may struggle to empathize with, is key to treating all living things with respect and compassion. 

Our tools explore a variety of character traits, and through discussion questions and activities, foster values that promote kindness, care and compassion for self, animals, people and the environment.


  1. Deemer, D. R., & Lobao, L. M. (2011). Public Concern with Farm-Animal Welfare: Religion, Politics, and Human Disadvantage in the Food Sector. Rural Sociology, 76(2), 167–196.
  2. Samuels, W. E., Meers, L. L., & Normando, S. (2016). Improving upper elementary students’ humane attitudes and prosocial behaviors through an in-class humane education program. Anthrozoos, 29(4), 597–610. Retrieved from:
  3. Samuels, W. E. (2018). Nurturing kindness naturally: A humane education program’s effect on the prosocial behavior of first and second graders across China. International Journal of Educational Research, 91(July), 49–64. Retrieved from:
  4. Aguirre, V., & Orihuela, A. (2010). Assessment of the impact of an animal welfare educational course with first grade children in rural schools in the state of Morelos, Mexico. Early Childhood Education Journal, 38(1), 27–31.
  5. Orihuela, A., Aguirre, V., & Lakestani, N. (2015). Farm Animal Welfare and Children: A Preliminary Study Building an Attitude Scale and Evaluating an Intervention. Society and Animals, 23(4), 363–378.
  6. Hawkins, R. D., Ferreira, G. A. R. M., & Williams, J. M. (2019). The development and evaluation of ‘farm animal welfare’: An educational computer game for children. Animals, 9(3).
  7. Hawkins, R. D., & Williams, J. M. (2017a). Assessing Effectiveness of a Nonhuman Animal Welfare Education Program for Primary School Children. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 20(3), 240–256.
  8. Sprinkle, J. E. (2008). Animals, empathy, and violence: Can animals be used to convey principles of prosocial behavior to children? Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 6(1), 47–58.
  9. Angantyr, M., Hansen, E. M., Eklund, J. H., & Malm, K. (2016). Reducing Sex Differences in Children’s Empathy for Animals Through a Training Intervention. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 30(3), 273–281.
  10. Arbour, R., Signal, T., & Taylor, N. (2009). Teaching kindness: The promise of humane education. Society and Animals, 17(2), 136–148.
  11. Mariti, C., Papi, F., Mengoli, M., Moretti, G., Martelli, F., & Gazzano, A. (2011). Improvement in children’s humaneness toward nonhuman animals through a project of educational anthrozoology. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 6(1), 12–20.
  12. Baatz, A., Anderson, K. L., Casey, R., Kyle, M., McMillan, K. M., Upjohn, M., & Sevenoaks, H. (2020). Education as a tool for improving canine welfare: Evaluating the effect of an education workshop on attitudes to responsible dog ownership and canine welfare in a sample of Key Stage 2 children in the United Kingdom. PLoS ONE, 15(4), 1–17.
  13. Fonseca, M. J., Franco, N. H., Brosseron, F., Tavares, F., Olsson, I. A. S., & Borlido-Santos, J. (2011). Children’s attitudes towards animals: Evidence from the RODENTIA project. Journal of Biological Education, 45(3), 121–128.
  14. Depow, G. J., Francis, Z., & Inzlicht, M. (2020). The experience of empathy in everyday life. Psychological Science, 1–43.



The Heart of the Matter: Character and Citizenship Education in Alberta Schools – A resource from Alberta education that provides information and a sample framework and strategies for developing and/or supporting a culture of character and citizenship in schools.

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