The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" July 2003
Research Theme: "The Development for Sheep-Interacted Child Education"
By Toyokazu Kubota
Instructor at Tagata Agricultural High School
in Shizuoka Prefecture
It has recently been pointed out that in education, children need to be introduced to the appropriate experiences at the appropriate ages. And from the point of view of integrated learning, an increasing emphasis is being placed on the shift from conventional lessons in which the teacher is the source of all relevant knowledge to those in which the instructor facilitates the child’s learning experience or educational play activity. As one such solution, Kubota has developed children’s educational programs such as activities carried out at sheep ranches and lesson materials that make use of wool, demonstrating the potential for sheep as learning facilitators:

“In the portion of our high school class program involving plant life, we conducted horticulture therapy program, which we had students planting cotton together with preschool students. As the culmination of the same class program, we brought a sheep that is being raised at the school to the preschool yard so that the children could interact with it, and we used cotton to make sheep toys with it. By thus providing the children with an opportunity to actually experience the voice, smell and feel of the sheep, such as the fluffiness of its coat, with all five senses, we genuinely got the feeling that we had planted in them the seeds of knowledge. It was an experience that really brought home to us the potential that sheep hold as educational facilitators.

“Sheep are essentially domesticated livestock, and the animal’s quiet disposition, fluffy coat and likeable appearance lead us to believe that they are well suited for use as petting animals. And unlike other livestock species, they can be put to commercial use without the necessity for slaughter. This makes them ideal for teaching children about coexisting with animals, and the lifestyles shaped by the sacrifices of those who raise and tend them. Wool can also be used in rehabilitation through occupational therapy.

“Modern education often uses simulated experiences such as television and books, which the student reflects on by writing compositions or drawing pictures. That is, the original experience is largely visual, and so is the review of it. In fact, more than 90% of the information in conventional lessons is visual. There is a clear lack of knowledge gained through real-world experience. This is what makes interaction by sheep so important.”

In other words, Kubota noted, we’re converting virtual reality into reality. He added that in general, much of animal assisted therapy consists of passive activities in which the animal may approach the subject, be placed on the knees, or lick the subjects hand. But with the use of sheep, more active experiences become possible:

“I’d now like to introduce the basic program that we have developed. First of all, we introduce the sheep, enabling students to encounter it with all five senses. They observe, touch and smell, and in some cases the child backs off in the presence of an animal bigger than he or she is. We therefore have the children familiarize themselves with sheep as much as possible beforehand with the use of picture books. Next, we have them feed the sheep, and then sheer off a bit of wool. This gives them a taste of the give-and-take relationship involved in raising livestock and helps them understand the significance of animal husbandry. The next step is to have the student fashion something out of the wool that he or she has taken. For this step of the exercise, we have devised four products adapted to the various ages of the students. One is a sheep-shaped toy, another is a felt ball, another is a felt paperweight, and finally we made yarn and a coaster out of it.

Thus, in the review stage of the lesson, rather than just the visual sense involved in writing compositions or drawing pictures, we put together a series of activities such as manual arts that deeply engages all five senses. We also conducted this program to the students from schools for disabled children. As a result, we found this program a potential one for rehabilitation and for generating healing effect of the so-called sheep therapy.

Awareness of sheep as companion animals is still poor, and few schools have yet to begin raising them. In the future, we hope to spread the utilization of our basic program while also conducting workshops on variations of it in order to spread the use of sheep as educational mediators.”