Social-Emotional Learning with Animals

Miss Amanda smiles while holding a guinea pig and ukulele as part of AWS' social-emotional learning program.

It’s no secret that animals can help teach children and adults alike about their emotions. Animals make us feel safe, feel seen, and are great listeners. As such, our Youth Programs’ Coordinator, Miss Amanda, loves using resident pets in her programs and lessons for students. And no such place is it more necessary than with AWS’ social-emotional learning (SEL) visits to local schools! There, in a familiar and safe environment, children are able to learn from various pets how to understand and control their own emotions. That’s why we love social-emotional learning with animals!

What is SEL?

According to CASEL, The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, SEL is defined as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” For AWS, this means an opportunity to help students within our community, as SEL guidelines follow our own Youth Programs‘ mission of teaching compassion and empathy through humane education.

But how do animals play a part? Studies have shown that children or adults who struggle with emotional understanding benefit from having other feeling beings around. Animals have emotions as well and can express them similar to humans. They show fear when they’re scared, love when they’re content, and excitement when they’re happy. In this way, students are able to connect to another being and see their emotions first hand. They can then relate those emotions to their own and gain insights on how they’re feeling.

A woman smiles at the camera while holding three baby guinea pigs outside as part of AWS' social-emotional learning program.


The first Monday of every month, Miss Amanda packs up her van with books, musical instruments, and a resident pet or two. She then drives to local schools where she’ll spend the morning teaching social-emotional learning with animals. Here, Miss Amanda can safely introduce children to pets of all kinds and allow them to learn from the animal’s behavior. Each month is a different SEL theme, such as respect, responsibility, or empathy, and she’ll prepare a song or read a book that matches the theme.

This month the theme is safety, and Miss Amanda is ready to introduce our newest resident pets and Youth Programs’ animals, Alvin, Simon and Theodore! This baby guinea pig trio is perfect for teaching children the importance or safe handling small animals and how loud, fast, or excitable movements can be unsafe for pets. She has also prepared a song titled Three Little Guinea Pigs on her ukulele, a parody of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Combining music, literature, and pets is the perfect way to help teach social-emotional learning to children and foster an environment for empathy and compassion. AWS is proud to be able to help community children learn social-emotional learning with animals!