Animal Ambassadors Learn About Black Cats and Bats for Halloween

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On October 31st seven 5 to 8 year olds in our Caring Kids: Animal Ambassadors program attended a fun and informative Halloween party at Animal Haven Shelter in NYC. These compassionate young changemakers learned about bats, black cats, and how to keep their companion animals safe during this spooky holiday. In addition to learning about how bats are sometimes misunderstood and why black cats can sometimes get a bad rap, the Animal Ambassadors created crafts to educate others about these remarkable creatures.
The kids practiced the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) by creating fun bat figurines out of old toilet paper rolls. While hard at work they also took time to watch the heart-warming story of a young orphan bat who was nursed back to health. The Ambassadors learned that bats are extremely important to many eco-systems and due to humanity’s actions and people’s misperceptions, bats have become threatened all across the globe.
Many of us know the old wives tales of black cats bringing bad luck. But did you know that in countries like Italy, Scotland, and Japan black cats are considered good luck? In fact in England if a black cat shows up to a wedding, the marrying couple are supposed to have a blessed marriage. The Ambassadors learned this and much more as they created black cat posters with positive messages to combat common stereotypes.

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In addition to all the hands-on crafts and learning, the Animal Ambassadors enjoyed some holiday treats, danced to Halloween-themed music, and enjoyed a slideshow of different companion animals in fun costumes.
The day was made even more special with the help from a number of local high school students who volunteered at the event. Led by the teacher, HEART super volunteer, Gail Frydkowski, the students helped the Ambassadors create their many crafts and celebrated during the final portion of the day.
The party was capped off with a celebration and award ceremony. The Animal Ambassadors were awarded badges and certificates, making them official Shelter Helpers and giving them something to remember all their great work on behalf of Animal Haven and all animals looking for their forever home.

5 Activities to Connect Children to Nature This Fall Season

fall colors

By guest blogger and educator, Simon Czerwinskyj
Although fall marks the end of summer, it doesn’t have to mean the end of outdoor activities. Children can continue to explore the outdoors and its numerous opportunities to learn and create as the weather turns. Here are some suggestions for fun and educational activities that will engage children and get them in the autumnal spirit.
1. Nature Walk

As children are primarily visual learners, it’s best to start with the concrete when having them commune with the outdoors. Nothing beats the age-old nature walk as a way to connect children with the environment. Take a walk and be on the look out for signs of fall. You can point out and explain the changing color of the leaves (as the green fades, we see the true colors of the leaves!). Make a game of locating particular leaf colors (how many red/orange/brown can you find?). Locate gardens or flower beds that were once fertile in spring and summer and discuss the changing landscape as autumn sets in. Talk about the colors you saw on the walk and associate them with the season.
2. Leaf Collection/Art with Found Nature Materials

We all know how much kids love to pick things up off the ground, and here’s a golden opportunity to indulge this inclination. Along your walk, pick up attractive leaves, bark, or small twigs in a bag. The leavings of fall are perfect for a homegrown art project. Use the leaves for rubbings by placing a thin sheet of paper over the leaves and rubbing the paper with a crayon (peel the paper off of crayons and use colors that correspond to the leaves) to reveal the image of the leaf. Yarn and twine are great tools to make bracelets or necklaces with your findings (simply skewer your leaves gently and push the yarn through). With a roll of large paper, you can create a fall mural of leaf and bark rubbings on one continuous sheet of paper. This also affords the opportunity for your child to draw or paste hand-drawn signs of fall on the mural (rain drops, wind, acorns, rain clouds). Make stencils of these items out of cardboard for younger children to trace to simplify the process.
3. Apple Tasting

Beyond the visuals of autumn, fall has a taste as well: the apple. Buy a variety of apples, such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala etc. and have your children chop them into bite size pieces. Separate the different varieties so each has its own bowl and commence the taste test. Taste each apple and discuss the flavor (sour, sweet, bitter). As an extension, provide different foods with similar tastes to each variety of apple as a means of comparison and to reinforce the taste bud vocabulary. Have the children decide which apple they like best and use that variety to make homemade applesauce. You may also want to list the scientific names for the parts of the apple as an extension (exocarp, endocarp, etc.)
4. Homemade Applesauce

Once a favorite apple has been established, make some homemade applesauce with the winning apple. The children can help peel (optional) and chop cored apples (a simple butter knife or corrugated cheese slicer are effective and safe for children to chop with) into small pieces. By simply adding water, some cinnamon, and a bit of sugar (also optional), the apples can be transformed into sauce in a crockpot. There are plenty of simple recipes available on the web.
5. Identifying Leaf Shapes

For older children, find out what leaf shapes are most common in your area (cordate, orbiculate, elliptical?). Find images of these common shapes and make life size cards or stencils out of them. Then, it’s time for a leaf hunt. With the cards in tow (3-4 shapes should be good), find real leaves and match them to the cards. This is a great springboard to a leaf collection and further classification of the leaves. These leaves can be pressed, labeled, and added to a photo album or mounted on poster board for display.
Simon Czerwinskyj first became interested in Montessori as a student in a 3-6 Montessori classroom. After obtaining a BA in English, he followed in his parents’ footsteps and became a Montessori teacher. Simon has been teaching in 3-6 classrooms for 14 years, and is always finding new ways to engage his students. And his students are always finding new ways to impress him and make him laugh.

Photo Credit: Len Matthews/Flickr

Let’s Talk About Black Cats and Halloween

Cute black cat

Holidays are some of the most image-invoking occasions around. Think about Christmas, and what image comes to mind? A Christmas Tree? Santa Claus? How about the Fourth of July? Fireworks? You thought about fireworks, didn’t you? And what about Halloween? While it may not be the very first image that jumps to mind when one thinks of this spooky holiday, there can be no doubt that black cats have an iconic presence during this festive season. While ornamental black cat cutouts and other decorations featuring our raven furred friends can offer fun home and classroom adornments, some people decide to take things a step further and acquire real live black cats during the Halloween season.
While black cats and dogs statistically have a much harder time finding forever homes due to their coloring, historically many shelters have seen surges in adoption of black felines shortly before Halloween. Although it may be common knowledge that many shelters now refuse to adopt out black cats on or around Halloween, the varied reasons for this decision may not be as understood. Animal cruelty and sacrificial practices have made the news on a handful of occasions; however, a more widespread concern is that many people acquire black cats as ornaments for Halloween parties and other events.  Often, the same shelters that have adopted out these animals consequently see a similar surge of returned black cats once the party is over, and consequently have a “no black cat adoption” policy for much of October.
So, what can we do to not only help black cats but also understand the deep seated nature of the problem? As always, humane education offers a wealth of avenues by which to explore this type of companion animal issue. By first discussing how our feline friends may become homeless, be it abandonment by previous guardians, “outdoor” cats who become lost, or kittens born to feral mothers, students can gain a better understanding of the immense stress placed on shelters to accommodate a growing number of homeless pets. Problem solving activities can then focus on how to minimize this problem through spay/neuter operations, TNR efforts, keeping cats indoors unless supervised, and always adopting instead of buying.
Armed with all of this knowledge, students can then engage in all sorts of activities to help the many cats who are waiting for their forever homes, especially the black ones who may be shelter bound a bit longer than their furry counterparts. Sunshine Toys are one easy and affordable mini service learning project that promise to brighten everyone’s day, especially the cats. Everyday cardboard boxes can also be used to create cat houses that will provide shelter animals with hours of fun. From creating PSAs that destigmatize black cats to creating “Happy Sock” toys (socks stuffed full of crinkly wrappers and catnip), empowered students can get more involved in their local communities to ensure that Halloween is a fun and compassionate holiday for everyone.
Photo Credit: Bernard C. Black / Flickr

Students Make Happy Animal Home Dioramas

For the past few weeks, K-2nd grade students in HEART’s Helping Others Club in Chicago have been learning about what companion animals need to be happy and healthy. Students loved learning how – just like people – animals need food, water, shelter, regular visits to the doctor, toys and love. As a culminating activity, students created dioramas that depicted what a happy, healthy home environment looks like.
Using shoeboxes, felt, paper, markers, and magazines, our students constructed everything a dog or cat could need in a home. Through this process they were able to learn more about proper care for their companion animals and educate others on the needs of cats and dogs. Most importantly, students realized that humans and animals are remarkably similar. And therefore, that making sure that an animal’s needs are met is a top priority.
But don’t take our word for it: check out these photos of our students’ dioramas.


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This activity and dozens of other interactive lessons about protecting animals will be featured in our Humane Education Resource Guide that is to be released later this year. If you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to receive this free resource guide and other important news from HEART, sign up for our email list here.

Teacher Tip: Every Child Can Be a Humane Educator

children teaching

Every time we teach children about a humane issue, we hope that they will be moved to share what they have learned with friends and family. After all, the point of humane education is not for the new knowledge to stay stuck inside one classroom, to be forgotten by the next period. We want kids to be moved to act to make the world a better place for all life.
But not all students are comfortable speaking out about the things they care about. That’s why we love building educational campaigns into our programs. It gets students sharing what they have learned, and serves as good practice so that they can keep spreading the word on any given issue.
A great way to do this is to ask older students to educate their younger schoolmates about humane issues. Have you been talking about pollution with 5th graders? Have them visit the classrooms of 3rd graders to talk about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. When students become teachers, they have to get to know the material much more fully so that they can effectively educate others. The students can practice in advance in groups and learn how to distill the most important points to convey the necessary facts. They also learn how to put together a call to action (for example: never litter and always recycle), and work on their public speaking.
Younger students tend to look up to the older kids in their school, making the older students the perfect teachers to inspire young students about humane issues. It also helps the younger kids become more comfortable in their school by meeting and speaking with older students who now become humane role models.
Here at HEART, many of our projects are centered around educating others. Last year at P.S. 36 in NYC, the kids did a unit on contemporary forms of child slavery. Each student researched a different way that children are forced into labor (factories in South Asia and other regions, restavec practices in Haiti, domestic slavery in many parts of the world including the US, child soldiers, cocoa harvesting in West Africa, etc.) and created a poster to educate their classmates about the prevalence of child slavery today. Many of our programs also end in assemblies in front of the entire school so students can present what they have learned to a large audience.
There are so many creative projects that can be done to have kids become the humane educator. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Reading and discussing humane books with younger kids
  • Traveling from classroom to classroom to educate the younger students on an issue
  • Pair up an older student with groups of younger kids to create a humane art project
  • Create educational posters to hang up in the hallways
  • Ask the students to present to the entire school during an assembly
  • Students can gather signatures for a petition and in the process, educate others about the issue

Every single one of us has the power to become a humane educator. Our students, the ones who are learning about humane issues, are the perfect candidates to help teach the younger generations ways to be a better global citizen.