The goal of humane education...
is to inspire empathy and compassion for animals, people and the environment. Although there is no singular definition of humane education, most practitioners and prosocial organizations agree that fostering respect, compassion and kindness, alongside skills in critical thinking and perspective taking, are fundamental to building a more humane world.
Understanding that animals, people and the environment are interconnected and interdependent is another key aspect of humane education. Students are encouraged to think about the natural word and their place within it, and then evaluate how their attitudes and behaviours impact others, animals and the environment.
The ultimate goal of using a humane education pedagogy is to encourage young people to be active and engaged citizens who are equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to create meaningful and sustainable changes for their own well-being, and the well-being of all living things.
Humane education vs. Animal welfare education
Animal welfare education refers to specifically to fostering knowledge, attitudes and skills that promote well-being in animals. Animal welfare education is one component of humane education. Animals are often a great way to begin discussing issues that impact all living things and the environment, as people tend to have a natural affinity towards animals. Exploring our relationship to animals can help shape us as individuals and therefore impact how we relate to the environment more broadly.1
A humane education program focused on caring for animals and nature can positively impact prosocial behaviours such as helping, cooperating and sharing in elementary students.2,3 Proponents of humane education also believe that student understandings about kindness and caring towards animals will generalize when interacting with people.4,5
In a recent survey of Alberta teachers, self-reported data revealed that teachers see themselves playing an essential role in teaching young people about animal welfare.6 Along with parents, they are the primary educators of youth, and role models for promoting caring attitudes and behaviours towards animals. Barriers identified by teachers to implementing humane or animal welfare education include a lack of resources and insufficient professional development to help them prepare to adequately address animal welfare in classrooms. This humane education toolkit aims to provide such information, so that teachers can bolster empathy and respect for all living things in the classroom, explain its importance to interested others, and remain in alignment with curricular outcomes.
Auger B., Amoit C. (2017). Testing and extending the Pets as Ambassadors Hypothesis: The role of contact with pets and recategorization processes in predicting positive attitudes towards animals. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, 5(1) 1-25
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. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2018.08.001
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. doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2016.1228751
Ascione, F. R. (2005). Children & Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness & Cruelty. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.
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. doi.org/10.1177/154120400730552
Logan, M. (2020). Teachers perceptions and pedagogical practices related to the inclusion of animals and their welfare in elementary classrooms [unpublished masters dissertation]. University of Edinburgh