Nurturing Children to be Responsible Pet Owners
A collaborative project between two Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduates and Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) aims to teach preschoolers about the importance of responsible pet ownership through children’s literature.
Taking care of an animal can teach children a lot about being caring and nurturing. However, there is a lot more to pet ownership than simply having a cute and cuddly animal that one can play with.
Ms Chong Poh Choo, Senior Executive Manager, Community Outreach Department, Communications & Corporate Relations Group, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), believes that teaching children to develop empathy and respect towards animals is as important as teaching them good manners and good hygiene.
“From our experience, many parents cave in to their children’s requests for pets. When this is done without proper planning and research, the pets often end up victims of neglect and poor care – they are fed the wrong diet, housed improperly and handled inappropriately. Veterinary care is also often trivialised.” says Ms Chong.
Learning Through Stories
With the intention of spreading the importance of responsible pet ownership to young children, two final year Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) students, Ms Lee Jean-rong and Ms Rachel Goh, created a children book series in collaboration with AVA. This book series is the result of Jean-rong and Rachel’s Final Year Project (FYP), part of their coursework in the Early Childhood Development & Education programme. This FYP component required students to work collaboratively with a community partner on a project that would benefit children, families and the community.
An avid animal lover, Jean-rong first broached the idea of collaborating with AVA . Both ladies then consulted their lecturer on possible project ideas before approaching AVA officially. It took multiple discussions with all stakeholders before they collaboratively decided to create a children’s publication series. Creating a children’s publication series was exciting to both Jean-rong and Rachel who were taking electives pertaining to early childhood literacy and children’s literature.
According to Jean-rong, the project was an uphill task from the word “go” as they had to make sure the project met NP’s strict criteria for final year projects while making sure that the community partner (AVA) would be on board. Her decision to take the initiative to approach AVA directly with her idea proved to be a blessing. The proposed idea was a fit for AVA’s existing education and outreach programmes for the preschool sector. These included talks at the preschools, learning journeys to the Animal Management Centre, and Innovation Guidance Project (IGP) on Responsible Pet Ownership, a collaboration between AVA and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
The resulting collaboration produced a series of four fiction books that depicts the stories of real animals. ‘Before We Met You’ tells the journey of how AVA’s two rabbit ambassadors, Anna and Kristoff, found each other through AVA’s responsible pet ownership education programme ‘The Tale of Katie and Little T’ depicts the life story of Little T, a four-year-old red-eared slider terrapin, whose owner eventually had a change of mind and fell in love with Little T again; ‘Second Chance’ tells the tale of Samson, a stray cat that eventually found a loving home; and finally, ‘Helping Paws’ brings to life the experiences of Tuxedo, a therapy dog that brings smiles to patients at a hospice.
Shared Ms Chong, “All the animals that are featured in the books are still with us, with the exception of Anna and Tuxedo who have passed away. These animals, with the exception of Tuxedo, came into the AVA’s Animal Management Centre with sad stories of their own (given up, abandoned, etc.). Yet, because of their lovely personalities, the outreach team [at AVA] decided to adopt them as education ambassadors. Tuxedo (the therapy dog) was a beloved pet who volunteered with his trainer in our education programmes for the last 10 years up until his death in June 2018.”
“As there was a lack of good resource on animals and pet ownership for the preschool sector back then, we wanted Rachel and Jean-rong’s books to help us fill that gap, with the learning targeted at 5 and 6 year-olds. We wanted the early childhood educators to be able to use the books and resources independently with the children. We also wanted to be able to put these books out to the public libraries so parents may read them to their children too,” says Ms Chong.
The project proved to be quite a challenge for the first-time authors. Jean-rong and Rachel had to ensure that the stories were fun and engaging to children, all the while maintaining factual accuracy as well as ensuring that the key learning outcomes and messages were achieved.
The authors managed to overcome these hurdles with the help of their Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer, Ms Elaine Lee, who taught them modules on children literacy. They also received guidance from their NIEC project supervisor, Ms Jean Ong. They were even inspired to create the illustrations for all the books thanks to guest lecturer and renowned local illustrator, Mr Lee Kow Fong.
To ensure that the children would be receptive to the stories and to fine-tune the lesson plans and activity guides, the authors went down to a few preschools to try out the books and activity guides with the K1 and K2 children.
“We also took part in AVA’s roadshow in 2016 to trial our picture books,” shared Rachel.
Their passion and dedication saw the project through and won the praise of AVA’s Ms Chong.
“We’ve been working closely with Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities & Social Sciences as far back as 2011, particularly the Diploma in Early Childhood and Diploma in Child Psychology & Early Childhood students for their Final Year Projects. Rachel and Jean-rong were the first group [from NP] to contact us directly and expressed their passion in animals. They proved to be lovely girls to work with and the work they produced was excellent,” says Ms Chong.
About the authors
Jean-rong is currently an Arts and Social Sciences Undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. She intends to major in Sociology and does not rule out the possibility of returning to the field of early childhood in the future. Rachel is now a preschool teacher with Healthy Start Child Development Centre, a VWO preschool that supports children from vulnerable families. She is also working towards a part-time degree, Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood, from Monash University.
The New Animal & Veterinary Service
With effect from 1 April 2019, the National Parks Board (NParks) will be the lead agency for animal and wildlife management, as well as animal and plant health.
Under NParks, a new Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) will be the main touch-point for animal-related issues for pet owners and businesses as well as animal welfare groups.
For information on other animal related issues, please visit www.nparks.gov.sg/avs
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