July 19, 2021

Allison Duggan

Building STEAM Skills Through Pet Ownership


Bowl of Lemons

Independence Day is here and summer break is providing plenty of time for new possibilities! Independence and independent thinking are critical skills for children to master as major components of STEAM education and success. Many families are considering how to use this summer season to promote independence in their children. 

One way to foster this skill is by introducing a dependent: a pet. Pets can promote many important skills that promote overall independence including problem solving, responsibility, communication, planning, and self-esteem. 

Photo credit: Leo Rivas

Establishing a Schedule

Pets are a motivating way to set a routine in your household. As dependents, your pets will rely on your family for regular feedings, exercise, bathroom breaks, and opportunities to sleep. If memory or forgetfulness is a goal for your child, your pets will give you external reminders if you deviate too far from your routine or schedule. Establishing a schedule for your pet will also be an opportunity for exercising forethought, planning ahead, and organization.

Promoting Persistence

Your child may be the most excited for pet ownership in the first few weeks or months. You may see this mirrored in other activities, where excitement is front-loaded but can wear thin as the initial novelty wears off. Pet ownership can promote dedication, persistence, and longevity. It’s harder to ignore a pet in your home compared to a half-complete 1,000-piece puzzle!

Facilitating Communication & Social Skills 

Meeting new people has never been easier than when you have a pet by your side. Pets can be a link to your community and open new opportunities for your children to meet new friends and practice communicating with others. Even when a pet is not physically present, your children may find it a comfortable topic to talk about with friends or new acquaintances when forming connections and finding commonalities.

Improving Self-Esteem

Building confidence and self-esteem is one of the most important goals for children. Including a pet in your home is a great way to cultivate this as animals are naturally non-judgemental and a unique example of unconditional love. 

Lena Helfinger

A Ticket Outside 

The benefits of the great outdoors for children and adults have been widely documented. Many pets enjoy, if not need, to go outside regularly. Pet ownership comes with a free and often daily ticket to nature. Pets can also be beneficial for children who have difficulty navigating unstructured playtime that is typical of being outdoors and may take a “what now?” approach to going outside. A pet can be a gateway to feel inspired in creating fun outdoor activities. 

Building Empathy & Attunement 

Empathy and attunement are key building blocks in STEAM success indicators such as perspective taking, making connections, communication, and collaboration. These skills are easily targeted when a pet is involved, as children can practice reading a pet’s emotions and energy. Body language can be tricky to read in humans. Educating your children on simple signs of your pet’s body language, such as a wagging tail or hiss, can be a great way to start looking for, and reacting appropriately to, body clues from others in social situations. 

Improving Safety Awareness 

We as adults are often mostly, if not solely, responsible for the safety of our children. When a child takes ownership in caring for a pet, they quickly realize that their pet is dependent upon them for safety. This role can naturally lead children to begin seeing and thinking of their environment in a different light, looking to ensure their pet is well cared for. These skills can be practiced in the context of a pet, and transferred to their own safety as children age. 

Pet ownership can help children build many foundational skills that become the building blocks to independence and STEAM success. There are plenty of options when choosing a type of pet that can fit into your family’s lifestyle. If you are hoping to help your child grow their skills this summer, consider adding a pet!

Author’s Bio

Allison Duggan is an occupational therapist with an expertise in pediatrics. She currently works in Montgomery County Public Schools. Never one to exclude an age group, she also practices in adult inpatient acute care occupational therapy. Off the clock, you’ll find her spending time with family and friends on a trail, in the sand, or watching the game. She loves to create, from paper flowers to refinished furniture, and is always game for game night. Her family includes three dogs who bring her endless joy, laughter, and the right amount of chaos.

A Note From ThinkFun

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