7 great ideas for parents at home with pets and small humans
Having all the family under one roof – both the two-leggeds and four-leggeds – can be a bit of a challenge, particularly if you have bored, fidgety children, looking for things to do. We’ve a few animal-themed ideas to help you keep your small humans happily occupied.
1. Train up young pet keepers
If your kids are often reluctant to help with pet housekeeping, now could be the opportunity to turn it into a reward-based game that will also help them learn more about animal care and welfare. Make a list of pet care responsibilities and talk with your children about which tasks that they feel they can handle. Discuss why the task is important and what could happen to their pet if the job is not done (the pet could go hungry or get sick, for example).
Get all family members involved, and share out the tasks, making sure they’re age appropriate. For example, a four-year-old can’t be expected to clean the guinea pigs’ hutch, but they can line the bottom with newspaper, help put in fresh hay and refill the water bottle. Create a star chart so that when a task is completed, the young pet keeper can put up a sticker to show how well they’re doing.
2. Start a pet project
Encourage your children to learn all about pets by making it into a project. They can look up information online – there are lots of great resources, games and make-and-do activities from websites such as National Geographic Kids and the RSPCA. Encourage your kids to write about what they’ve discovered, draw pictures and share fun facts with the family. Kick things off by asking them to find the answers to a few questions, such as: Where do degus come from? What’s the largest dog breed? How many hours a day do ferrets spend asleep? Why do cats scratch furniture? What are baby rabbits called? How do guinea pigs show they’re happy?
3. Plan an Easter egg hunt for all the family
While pets can’t have chocolate as it’s poisonous to them, the four-legged members of your family can still join in some Easter egg hunting fun.
- Start by getting some empty cardboard egg cartons and cut out the individual cups. Put a little something inside each cup to tempt your pet – ideally some food with a strong smell. For dogs and cats this could be little tinned sardine or cooked chicken; for ferrets, try some hard-boiled egg; for rats, some slivers of banana and for rabbits a small cube of apple.
- For dogs and cats, four or five cups will be enough for them to find; for ferrets, rats and rabbits, two or three will be sufficient.
- Show your pet one of the filled cups and let them sniff it. Then, with your pet out of sight, hide them. Choose hiding spots that relate to your pet’s ability to sniff, search and retrieve.
- For dogs, try hiding them in the flower bed or under shrubs in your garden. For cats, pick a variety of spaces indoors (that you know they can safely access) so they can have fun climbing up and down tracking their treats. For ferrets, rats and rabbits, place a selection of cups around their run – hiding places can be more covert for cunning ferrets, such as within a tunnel or stuffed into an old sock.
4. Grow herbs in a pot
If you have rabbits or guinea pigs, you could help your children plant a potted herb garden for them. The Royal Horticultural Society has a step-by-step guide. Good choices are basil, coriander and parsley. Kitchen garden seeds are available from Real Seeds. Not only is this a great introduction to gardening, imagine the pride your child will feel when the day comes that they can feed their small furries with herbs they’ve grown themselves.
5. Start a family story-time session
What was your favourite animal story when you were a child? Now is the perfect opportunity to share it. Host your own family ‘Jackanory’ session every day, perhaps taking it in turns to read a chapter from some classic animal tales such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter), The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Judith Kerr), The Tale of the Two Bad Mice (Beatrix Potter), The Sheep-Pig (Dick King-Smith), The Tales of Olga Da Polga (Michael Bond) The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), Gobbolino the Witch's Cat (Ursula Williams), or 101 Dalmatians (Dodie Smith). It will help the youngest members of your family with their reading – and the older members by providing a comforting boost of nostalgia.
6. Become animal pen pals
Why not ask your children if they’d like to support their local rehoming charity by becoming pen pals? Mrs Murray’s Home for Stray Cats and Dogs in Aberdeen put out a call for kids at home to put pen to paper as part of their Paw-Pals for Kids initiative.
Youngsters are being encouraged to write a letter or poem or create some artwork as a way to keep them busy, while also sprucing up the animals’ kennels.Centre manager Marie Simpson said: “We thought this would be a fun way for them to interact with the animals while also practising their English and art. It’s been a bit bleak since we’ve closed to the public and the pictures are a nice way to brighten up their kennels.We also thought this would be a way to get kids thinking about the welfare of the animals that aren’t in homes right now. They’re showing compassion for them. It’s also good for us to get the animals involved and keep spirits high.”
7. Go for a virtual day out to the zoo
As zoos and wildlife parks are out of bounds, some are offering virtual tours and live webcams, so your children can watch all sorts of animals from the comfort of the sofa. Here are some to ‘visit’:
Chester Zoo has filmed a tour where you can meet Asian elephants, butterflies, red pandas, giraffes, sun bears and Sumatran tigers. There’s even a trip to the aquarium, with beautiful seahorses, clown fish and brittle stars on show.
Edinburgh Zoo has live web cams so you can check out the pandas, penguins, koalas and tigers.
Paignton Zoo and Animal Wildlife Park also has live webcams, so you can see what the flamingos, meerkats, and Sulawesi crested macaques are up to.