Humane Education by Pamela MacIsaac | #TeachMeTuesdays

Pet Bird

In midtown Toronto, most of us are lucky enough to live in a neighbourhood full of parks, back alleys, ravines, and yards, which are, in turn, full of animals, both wild and domestic. Whether it’s a dog on a leash, a friendly cat, or that family of pesky raccoons that keep tearing the tiles of your shed, the abundant animal life in our part of the city provide our kids with continual opportunities for humane education.

In the past decade, most of us – parents and teachers alike – have realized that a “good education” involves more than just math skills and literacy. While they’re learning about the pythagorean theorem or the correct use of the semi-colon, we also want our kids to learn emotional intelligence – empathy, cooperation, kindness, resilience – at school and home. Humane education, which encourages compassion, respect, and justice for other species, is an excellent way to foster empathy for other living beings and an understanding of the interconnected web of life.

In school, humane education can take a variety of forms. Teachers might have a class pet, whose presence can help teach kids not only about the life cycle or food web, but about an animal’s need for socialization or tolerance for being handled by humans. We can teach about farming, of course, and include visits to well-managed and humane farms in our planning.

At home, one of the easiest and best forms of humane education is, of course, pet ownership. Kids can learn a deep and lasting lesson about love and respect for other species by learning to care for and respect an animal, whether it’s a puppy who needs to be walked and trained or a crested gecko who needs a certain size of aquarium and a regular misting. If you’re not able to own a pet, our neighbourhoods are filled with animals in their natural or adopted habitats. A leisurely walk through any park provides ample opportunity to observe animals at work and play, whether it’s a colony of feral cats or a squirrel scavenging for food. Follow that up with a trip to the public library for some child-friendly resources about those cats or squirrels and make that your bedtime reading. The Ottawa Humane Society offers an at-home humane education kit, which can be downloaded from their web-site at; a quick search for humane education materials will yield a plethora of results for parents and teachers.

Like all lasting lessons, humane education is a process not an outcome. It’s about integrating interest in and respect for the animal world and an understanding of interconnectedness into your family’s life on day-to-day basis…which is, luckily, a very easy thing to do!

Some resources on humane education:
Institute for Humane Education:
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies:
Toronto Humane Society:

By Pamela MacIsaac







Pam MacIsaac is a writer, teacher, enthusiastic amateur cook, mom, and lifelong pet owner. Her academic coaching practice, Think Academic Enrichment and Support (, offers literacy tutoring, enrichment classes, PA Day and March Break Creativity Camps, and other services for kids in midtown Toronto. She lives in the Arlington Village/Oakwood & Vaughan neighbourhood, and loves her local parks!


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