According to David Sobel, a leading education writer and researcher, “Cultivating relationships with animals, both real and imagined, is one of the best ways to foster empathy during early childhood. Children want to run like deer, to slither along the ground like snakes, to be clever as a fox and quick like a bunny.”
He has identified 7 motifs of play that are found around the world and are integral to children’s social and emotional development. One of those motifs is named Animal Allies.
Some of the rationale behind the animal ally motif is:
Children feel an inherent empathy with wild and domestic animals. Their first impulse with some animals is to pick them up, hold them close, take care of them, and become them. Other animals inspire fear.
Children often identify themselves as a specific animal—“What’s your favorite animal?”
These strong feelings towards animals in the early and middle childhood are indicative of our evolutionary heritage. Early relationships with flora and fauna are an integral part of feeling bonded to the matrix of the Earth.
Projecting feelings and human characteristics onto animals facilitates relationships. It makes animals and people part of one larger family, with kinship relationships and rules for sharing and care taking that weave the clans together.