A visit to Chester Zoo- and some deep reflecting from me!   10 comments

Today (17/2/15) was my last full day in Chester area before heading home on 18/2/15- and so foster child and myself decided we would spend the day at Chester Zoo.

We arrived early, just after the zoo opened, and went straight to the Elephant enclosure. I was struck with how the keepers had tried to recreate a elephant friendly environment from what really is a very unnatural environment for elephants. There was a water fall and a small pond (but big enough for elephants to get in); there were tree branches and things that could be picked up; boulders and tree trucks (all be it without branches and leaves); and I noted the keepers had put hay in ‘hiding places’ around the enclosure (so not just ‘dumped’ in one place) and that the elephants were actively seeking out the hay.

So not a natural habitat but as close as could be provided, based on what elephants need.
I did not see plastic blocks for lifting, or concrete trees painted to look real, just natural things as far as possible.

Then I read the information signs – and found out that a whole family of related elephants lived at the zoo – grandmother, daughter, grandchildren – all living together and all supporting each other, as it would be in their natural environment and family culture.

As my foster child and myself navigated our way round the zoo, I found myself reflecting more and more about the environments that I was seeing, and my work with young children as a childminder, and as a foster carer.

We went past the kitchen where they were preparing the meals for the monkeys – different meals for different tastes and dietary needs, all based on research and knowledge based experience of looking after the monkeys.

In the monkey house we saw family groups, with younger monkey’s learning the ropes from older monkey’s.

I did not see groups of young monkeys sat around being shown how to do things – either useful like peeling a banana or not so useful things like how to post things into a slot to get a reward.

And so it went on – we read signs that explained that we needed to respect the animals rights – so we should not bang on the glass of the fish tanks, we should not feed any of the animals, we should not use our camera’s in the bats area, we should not mimic the monkey’s sounds or actions.

In short we should respect the animals and their needs – no ifs or buts – and for some things such as feeding the animals, if we did not respect the animals needs we would be told to leave the zoo.

And in my opinion – this is how it should be.

However, it has not always been the case that there has been this understanding of animals and their needs. Mankind has in the past assumed they knew best, they could do what they like, both in terms killing animals, spoiling and even destroying natural environments, and how they looked after animals they captured.

It has taken a very long time for mankind to realise they were wrong, and even longer to do something about it.

As I went round the zoo, I read about lots of endangered animals, and even some species that are extinct in the wild and only have small numbers within zoo’s I read about efforts to introduce breeding programmes so that eventually some of these animals could be re established in the wild.

Of course – all is not perfect, and some will say, a lot more can be done – and some will even say that zoo’s should not be allowed.

However things have improved – and animals are well looked after, and there are various animal welfare organisations that ensure that the animal welfare laws are complied with. Research continues and as more is found out this is shared and acted on.

So during my reflection I think about my childminding practice – and my conclusion is that I demonstrate a similar understanding about the needs of the children in my care, as the keepers at Chester Zoo do about their animals.

BUT there is a huge difference between the care of the animals at Chester Zoo and the care of the children of this country.

And that big difference is those who make the rules and laws.

The Government of this country are decades behind those who are responsible for the care of animals –
the understanding shown by the Government of this country for the children they are responsible for making laws and rules about is based on a ‘we know what is best’ attitude, similar to that of those who used to capture animals or keep them in unsuitable environments.

We are fast approaching the ‘almost too late’ stage. We risk making childhood extinct, we risk our society changing so fast and so far from what our natural environment needs to be, that it will be lost for ever.

A little extreme? – I don’t think so

I did not see any of those animals where youngsters need to be with their parents, or in family groups for years (similar to human children) separated and grouped together to be taught how to do things – and certainly not forced into environments that were not designed to meet their needs.

Whereas in this country, our Government think that the children of this country can be fast tracked and taught everything they need to know to be an adult in a much shorter time frame, without any regard to the environment that is needed for them to learn in, or much regard for the things they need to learn.

Just imagine if at the zoo, I had seen fish in cages with rope swings? elephants in a dark cave with nothing to lift? monkeys in a pond? – I am sure people will be saying how silly, how far fetched.

But to me children expected to sit still, children being in environments without space, without things to lift and swing on, without all those natural resources (such as sticks, sand, mud and water at hand to do whatever they are driven to do in way of exploring) – is just as unnatural and just as likely to lead to the same outcome as putting fish with rope swings or elephant in dark caves.

Can we, should we, support this changing childhood? Should we just do as we are told and not protest and refuse to implement things that we know are not in the best interests of children?

Like the animal rights people, and organisation that protect animal rights – we need to shout very loud our protests; we need to inform Government through our evidence based practice that childhood can not be rushed and that children need enabling environments to not only thrive but survive.

A bit like the animals from our recent past that did not have the right care and environments, in the short term children we survive BUT as they reach adulthood the damage done to them will become apparent, they will not be able to cope and will need more and more support, as will society as a whole.

Think of those bears who used to be dressed in jackets and made to perform tricks – not natural, not right, and in the long term leads to very angry, confused bears who may harm others, and who will not have the skills to become adults bears or parent bears.

To me we are doing similar to our children – and if we continue, we will have very angry, confused children who are unable to be parents – and indeed unable to work due to lack of the skills needed; the self confidence, motivation, the thinking skills (including the keep self safe skills), the desire to succeed – and as a society in time we will become extinct, or self destruct.

Of course all is not lost – there is hope

My reflection goes full circle and considers my foster child (who is enjoying his day out without a clue that my head is doing all this reflection) – the Government do know what to do when children have not had the best start to life; – and have learnt from experience – children who cannot stay with their birth family are usually no longer placed in children’s homes, they are placed in family homes with foster carers like me – and play is used to help the children unpick their pasts, bridge gaps in their development, and especially their social and emotional development.

It is just shocking that even though the Government know this they are continuing to implement policy that is not in the best interests of children and their families.

I think if I had a bear as a pet, and I kept that bear dressed in a jacket and taught it tricks – I would be locked up, and quite rightly as a bear needs space, tress, maybe a cave or other place to rest, it needs to be able to develop skills over a number of years so it can feed itself and care for itself. It does not need to be able to skip with a hoop or balance a ball on its nose. Like the children of this country the bear needs to be able to think and to solve problems. A bear who can skip with a hoop, but unable to catch a fish, is as unlikely to be able to cope in adulthood as a child who can recite its times tables, but not be creative. or think or dream.

So why are we encourage by our Government to implement policy and practice that does not meet the needs of children?

Why are we not all protesting very loudly about this? Why are the rights of animals to environments and lives that meet their needs, seen as more important than the rights of our children to a childhood and an environment that meets their needs?

On our way to the exit, we stopped by the elephants again, and I watched a 2 yr old elephant playing with, and near its mother, and I thought ‘What a lucky elephant you are’

Posted February 17, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

10 responses to “A visit to Chester Zoo- and some deep reflecting from me!

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  1. Please keep on reflecting, Penny, and sharing your thoughts. I wish this blog could be read by every parent, grandparent and EY practitioner in the country. It says it all.
    Sue P

  2. You’re right Penny, we wouldn’t stand for it if animals were treated in this way! Children are being set up to fail. Shared on twitter and I hope it gets lots of re tweets.

  3. I enjoy your reflections very much Penny. This particularly got me thinking too! I will continue to share with those I work with, thank you

    • Thank you – I appreciate it when people share as all I want to do is to share information and my thoughts.

      My reflections – especially those I put into a blog, help me reflect more and t develop my practice. It is lovely to read that my reflections help other reflect as well

  4. Thank you Penny, fascinating read. I have been to many zoos, good and bad and I have never looked so deeply into what actually goes on like you have…….your blog will certainly make me reflect on many different things now, and Im cross with myself for never thinking as you have. x

    • Reflecting is one of those things that you get better at the more you do it Linda – and don’t be cross with yourself – as I am sure that you reflect about other things that pass me by!

  5. A very thought provoking reflection, thank you Penny . . . .it got me thinking along the lines of the ‘Why zoos?’ Why do we have to accept a completely artificial environment, for any zoo, however clever the zoo keepers are, is an artificial environment . . . . . So I suppose, my thinking would be why do children have to be collected together in ‘artificial’ groups, to play . . . . . . . surely the more natural, rightful place for a small child learning about there world and what impacts on it, would be the model that most closely resembles their natural environment, a family.
    What I don’t understand is why so many parents fail to see this and are so caught up with, so called ‘educational attainment’, that they miss the magic that is happening in front of them. And so many seem to believe that the artificial environment gives their child greater opportunities to progress, to attain.
    Thank you . . . . . for constantly reminding us of the important things. And for the three small children I took to the park this morning who, were the ones who found the mud, managed to cover themselves and various bits of the play equipment with it, found sticks and drew with it , wonderful!!

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