Animal Touch: Get more hands-on this year!

Hands on with animals

On my 30th birthday my wonderful family gave me a gift, something that I’d wanted to do for a very long time. I’ve always dreamed of  swimming with a dolphin.  I remember my skin was prickling with excitement and I desperately wanted to reach out and touch it.

As a wildlife education officer I’ve touched lots of different types of animals – crocodiles, snakes and even a tiger, so perhaps I’ve been a little blasé about touching animals and making that sensory connection. The difference this time was that I’d desperately wanted to touch a dolphin.  It was an animal I couldn’t possibly replicate the feeling of touching. You can imagine what fur feels like when you see an animal covered in fur (because you’ve touched fur before) but I’d never touched a marine mammal so couldn’t possibly know what to expect.

touching animals

While participating in the experience it occurred to me that children feel the same excitement I felt, but they feel it all the time for each animal. They want to feel its body covering and connect with the animal because many haven’t touched animals as much as we have. Children long to feel the animal’s fur, feathers and scales under their fingertips.

Dacher Keltner (The Greater Good Science Centre, 2012) says that hands are ‘our primary language of compassion, and a primary means for spreading compassion.’ Dacher was talking about the importance of human to human contact. I‘d say this is the same for humans touching animals.

There have been many studies that have shown significant benefits to children having pets. Not only does it help a child socially and emotionally but it also builds empathy towards animals in general. I think having the opportunity to touch wildlife as much as possible is just as important for the child as it is for the future of wild animals.

shingle backed lizard

So, parents, I have a challenge for you and your children this new year. I’d like you relish in one of the most important senses – touch.  Go out of your way to touch an animal that you’ve wanted to touch for as long as you can remember. Ignite that excitement for touching animals in you, like when you were a child, and provide that same opportunity for your children.

Of course there are limitations on animals that you can touch. Go to the zoo and find out how you can touch an animal you’ve longed to touch (be that having to fundraise for that experience) then it’s worth it for you and your children.

My one wish is that my children could have enjoyed the dolphin experience too. Although I can’t give my three girls a dolphin experience just yet, I will be making more effort to go to zoo and get more hands on this year!

What a nature-related goal you have for your children this year? What animal do you desperately want to touch?


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  1. says

    Love this. I’m working on an ABC series on Thrifty Teaching Tools – I’d love to include one of your posts. Do you have a great one for zoo – is your child touching the animal above at a zoo? Also, I would really like to link to your spider web activity. And maybe the ant one. Any photos would have a link to your post underneath. I’m wondering how Jackie’s boy is doing (My Little Bookcase). I sent her a guest post but haven’t heard back – which is fine. Just hope everything is all right. Here is my email address:

    • Penny says

      Hey Susan,

      This should hopefully get to your email address. Yes, I would love for you to use one of my posts and you are more than welcome to use any of the photos, thanks for asking. I don’t have one about zoos right now (why? I have no idea) but I’m going to the Sea World tomorrow for the twins second birthday and was planning to use those photos to write one. When will you publish it? I’m happy to try and get it done for you because it’s on the list.

      Jackie is back home but only temporarily, he will need to have surgery. I will pass on your thoughts to her and let her know you have a guest post waiting. That’s really thoughtful of you to write one. :)

  2. says

    Penny – I had promised Jackie a post months ago but just couldn’t seem to get one together. Way too much going on for me in December. My ABCs of Thrifty Teaching Tools posts are going to be Jan 7 through the 11th. A-E on Jan. 7th, F-J on Jan. 8th, etc. So Zoo wouldn’t be until the 11th. If you are able to have one great – if not it’s okay. I have some zoo photos with Sarah – but she’s older than kinder in them. And my blog is Kinder & PreK. Did you know Valeria Metzler – Glittering Muffins – has a series on zoos? I’m sure she’d love to have your post for that – any zoo in world is fine with her. Thanks. I didn’t see an email from you – but did see your comment. I”ll check my spam folder.

  3. kirri says

    The look on your face in that photo says it all – you look like a kid with a lolly jar!
    I’ve always wanted to touch a dolphin and I think Tigers are majestic…we will see I guess.

    • Penny says

      I was. I didn’t have a great start to the experience, which I was disappointed about but I still had a lovely time.

  4. says

    Hi Penny! It is interesting, my desire to touch an animal is based on connection (has that come up in your research?) The animal I would most like to get into the environment of would be a dugong. We saw them in Shark Bay years ago and they just facinate me :)

    • Penny says

      Oh Amie, I think I’d die if I ever got to touch a dugong! I adore them so much. There’s something magical about them. I was lucky enough to see one of them at our Moreton Island trip (up close too) and I squealed and then took photo after photo!

      I haven’t done any research into touch forming a connection with the animal but I see it every day and I know it does. It’s turning that connection into action that’s the hard part.

  5. says

    I completely agree with you and want to work on this more with my kids but living in a wildlife reserve we can’t have pets and while there are animals everywhere there aren’t many opportunities to touch them. We did have a pretty cool experience around Christmas when the police gave us a pangolin that had been brought to them and we released it into the reserve. It was rolled up tight and the girls and I each had a chance to stroke its scales before leaving it to adjust to its new home. I’d never seen a pangolin before and it was such a bonus to get to touch it. I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins. That is a really lovely photo of you.

    • Penny says

      Wow! I’d love to touch a pangolin. They are so cute. I must admit I don’t know a lot about them. Can they be dangerous?

      You may not be able to get hands-on but you have so many breathtaking wildlife experiences I don’t think you need to worry :). Perhaps you could try to replicate the skin of the animals you see with craft and they can pretend to touch the animal that way?

      • says

        I don’t think they can be dangerous but I do know of someone who picked one up and it unrolled in his hands – the scales gave him a pretty bad pinch – I think I would call that user error rather than dangerous though. I don’t know much about them either but after seeing this one I want to learn more. I love your idea of replicating the skins of the animals we see.


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