Bringing animals into the life of the nursery

A Froebelian approach to nursery pets

Project author:

Project summary:

A project introducing guinea pigs into the nursery and exploring a Froebelian perspective on the most appropriate way to do this.


It was proposed in this project that direct and prolonged physical contact with mammals would enrich the development of children.  The presence of animals living at nursery was intended to provide direct first hand experience. In neuroscience, there is evidence that the experience of nurturing another, as well as being nurtured, can have wide ranging social and emotional benefits. This project made the emotional response of children a central feature, because of the emotional bond with animals that may be expected to occur.


The nursery is based within the outskirts of a major city.  Demographically it would be described as being within an area with high level of deprivation.  “Nurture”, meaning in this context giving a specific focus to an attachment attuned approach, was a focus within the Local Authority.

The methods used in the project were to involve the children at each and every stage of bringing the guinea pigs to live at nursery and during their life at nursery.  Methods of data collection were observational and narrative, involving adult-child dialogue.


In providing first hand experience it is clear that the project enabled a range of meaningful and multisensory experiences for children, within a natural flow with a nurturant outcome. High levels of “involvement” were observed due to the focus on senses and emotions and the time given to routinely experience the animals. Influences of these experiences were at times seen within play and imagination. Children’s attention was often on the rich first hand sensory and personal experience that they are attending to rather than the intended learning of the adult. This project leaves open the possibility of additional, adult-directed learning experiences over a longer time frame.

There was an emotional response of children; the detailed comments from children made this apparent. The core Froebelian principle of making connections and experiencing unity ” was little touched upon yet within the project and it was the intention for the adult to be able to use dialogue to support the child to make connections with aspects of their own life.

One example was a child’s comment: “I want to take him to bed and put him on my pillow I want to show mummy ” and “ she’s soft, she loves me… she’s kind, I’m kind, we’re both kind ”. Fascinating responses and connections like this were apparent often.  This child made a routine of bringing her older and her younger sister into nursery every day to look at and sometimes handle the guinea pigs and the importance of this connection and care was obvious to see.


Introducing small animals into nursery on a consistent and frequent basis, in a carefully planned way, had clear benefits to the children in their levels of involvement and engagement, demonstrated through the care, joy and enthusiasm that they showed.  Wide ranging opportunities for further connection and learning were identified in the longer term.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

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