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Fostering Attitudes of Empathy towards Animals in Youth Ages 4-7 through Play Experiences in a Zoo Setting

By Heidi M. Faris

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Category Theses

Zoos are place-based education facilities that have the ability to utilize their natural play spaces to enhance the social and cognitive development of children using live animals. Playing outdoors in nature has shown to increase physical, attentive, cognitive and social development during early childhood. By using place-based learning, zoos can guide children to use different play behaviors to foster attitudes of care and empathy increasing their appreciation to nature. During the week of July 18th-21st, 2011, observations of children playing at the San Antonio Zoo in the Kronkosky’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot, to determine if children who play in a zoo setting show empathy for animals and an appreciation for nature. 97 children, both boys and girls between the estimated ages of 4-7 were recorded. Five popular play spaces within the children’s area were chosen as observation sites. A coding form and accompanying notebook were used to record observations. Data was collected and coded using different aspects, such as play behaviors per area, boys vs. girls, time spent in an area, actions and language spoken. Children who played in the various play areas showed different levels of empathy towards animals based on the expressions and actions recorded. Further research is needed to include predetermined factors, expanding to more than one zoo, and conduct a longitudinal study to understand long term effects of the role of zoo and nature play areas.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2012
Pages 69
Publisher University of Minnesota Duluth
Location of Publication Duluth, Minnesota
Department Education and Human Service Professions
Degree Environmental Education
Language English
  1. Animal roles
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Attitudes
  4. Children
  5. Cognition
  6. Empathy
  7. live animals
  8. Physical environment
  9. place-based learning
  10. Texas
  11. Zoo and captive wild animals
  12. Zoos