All creatures great and small

3rd May 2013 at 01:00


Tales of unlikely friendship

Teaching small children to read is a joy - as long as you can ignite their enthusiasm.

But it can be more of a challenge if English is not their first language. In the UK, for example, the number of schoolchildren who speak English as an additional language now exceeds 1 million. So when children have diverse backgrounds, how do you engage your whole class?

Unlikely Friendships for Kids (published by Workman) is a delightful series of books aimed at children aged 7 and above about animals that have formed unlikely bonds with each other. The real-life stories, illustrated with photographs, are taken from The New York Times best-selling book Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland.

The heart-warming tales include The Monkey and the Dove - about a baby rhesus monkey that befriended a white dove at a nature reserve - and The Dog and the Piglet. The most unlikely pairing, perhaps, is The Leopard and the Cow.

Key words and phrases are explained at the back of each book, alongside facts about each featured animal.


Deadly and endangered

You could be forgiven for thinking that a poison dart frog would be able to defend itself. Its poison is so lethal that, in the frog's South and Central American rainforest habitat, native tribesmen use it on the tips of their darts to create a deadly hunting weapon.

Indeed, one species, the golden poison frog, is one of the most toxic animals in the world. The poison from one frog is enough to kill 10 men.

Yet these vibrantly coloured creatures are facing extinction, their poisonous skin no protection against habitat loss. As the rainforests disappear, there is a danger that the poison dart frog may vanish with them. And they are not alone. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, nearly a quarter of all mammal species and a third of amphibians are threatened with extinction.

The golden poison frog may not be as cuddly as other endangered species, such as the golden lion tamarin or the chimpanzee, but they play an important role in the rainforest ecosystem.


Animal altruism

One of the charms of watching a children's film is being able to believe for a moment that wild animals show kindness in the same way as humans. In Disney's 1942 film Bambi, the death of the titular fawn's mother is a formative lesson in self-sacrifice. Similarly, in Disney's 1994 film The Lion King, meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa (pictured) highlight the value of friendship when they adopt lonely lion cub Simba.

But such stories are not as fantastical as they may seem. Many types of animal have been observed in the wild appearing to show kindness to their own and other species, apparently putting the well-being of others before their own.

Dolphins have been known to stay with injured members of their pod, pushing them towards the surface so they can breathe. Vervet monkeys let out an alarm call to alert their tribe to a predator, even though, by drawing attention to themselves, they heighten their own risk of being attacked. Elephants have rituals associated with the death of one of their herd.

Behavioural scientists call this "animal altruism". Some even oppose Charles Darwin's idea of "survival of the fittest", claiming that nature functions according to a kinder rule: "survival of the nicest". Not that we're suggesting that you or your students should try to cuddle tigers on your next trip to the zoo.


In this PowerPoint lesson, children identify pets and wild animals from their descriptions. bit.lyPetsAndWildAnimals

Take a look inside a zoo and discover its animals with activities from TESConnect partner NGfLCymru. bit.lyZooActivities

This slideshow reveals how animals care for their young. Suitable for children aged 4 and under. bit.lyAnimalParents

Find out more about African elephants in an illustrated lesson shared by May2. bit.lyElephantLesson

Teach your class about wild animals - and hone their language skills - with martuska's worksheet for speakers of English as an additional language. bit.lyEALWorksheet


HooplaKidz's video The Lion and the Mouse shows that a real friend is one who is there when you need them most. bit.lyLionAndMouse

Follow the story of a dog and a dolphin who become friends in pwilloughby3's video. bit.lyDogandDolphin

Teach children about the rainforest and the importance of conservation in a role-play activity from Nikkers. bit.lyRainforestRolePlay

Explore the life cycle of a frog using toty's presentation. bit.lyFrogLifeCycle.

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