The Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum bridges the domains of humane education and social-emotional learning, building on children's natural affinity for pets and providing a real-life context within which to teach social and emotional skill. The goal is to support the development of confident and caring children who can make a difference in the lives of people, animals, and the environment.
The Curriculum is based on the Resiliency Model. The research on resiliency has shown the importance of providing families with support services, as well as increasing families' skills to enable them to cope during times of stress. Children, too, need to be equipped with effective skills, strategies, and resources to deal with stressors or challenges they may encounter.
One aspect of resiliency is the ability to recognize when we need help and where and how to succeed in obtaining help. In the Curriculum, we foster resiliency in a series of lessons designed to help children identify their strengths, skills and talents, as well as areas they need to improve and where they may need help. Children learn how and when to seek help, strategies for self-talk, and ways to encourage themselves and challenge self-doubt and criticism.
Social Emotional Learning
The research on Emotional Intelligence and Social Emotional Learning is at the core of the Curriculum. Emotional Intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage emotions and understand how the way we feel can affect not only our own, but others' actions. Social-emotional competence requires self- and social-awareness and enables children and adults to engage in positive relationships, make ethnical and responsible decisions, and avoid high-risk and negative choices and behaviors. These skills can be taught and in the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, we present lessons within five themes based on social and emotional learning.
One of the themes is Encouraging Empathy. Empathy is the foundation of the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum and refers to the ability to understand how others feel and respond in caring ways. The primary environments in which children develop - specifically home and school - and the interactions with adults in these environments contribute to children's capacity for empathy. Children who experience nurturing relationships are more likely to develop compassion and confidence. Throughout the Curriculum, we provide strategies and activities to help teachers and parents engage children and model and encourage empathic behavior.
An important aspect of social and emotional well-being is physical health. Children who are active and in good physical health are better able to handle every day stresses that occur at home, the playground, or school. They are also more receptive to learning. We encourage teachers and families to incorporate some form of exercise during the day to ensure that children are physically fit. However, this does not need to be as extensive as allotting a specific period for physical education. Physical activities such as playing on the playground, dancing to music, moving around the classroom, or jumping in place contribute to young children's physical fitness. Some teachers also encourage activity breaks during the course of daily classroom instruction to help children be calmer, happier, and more able to focus on learning. Lessons throughout the Curriculum incorporate games and activities that get children up and moving within the classroom. In some lessons, we also include breathing and stretching exercises and yoga to complement teachers' efforts to help students manage their emotions and maintain a calm disposition.
In its integration of Mutt-i-gree® dogs, the Curriculum is considered not only a social and emotional learning program, but also a significant contribution to humane education efforts. Humane education focuses on others' needs and the ability to consider another's perspective–whether it is an animal or person–and the impact of one's actions on other people, animals, and environment around them. In addition, the Curriculum builds on the emerging research on the benefits of human-animal interaction.
Pet ownership continues to grow in the United States, especially among families with young children and recent research demonstrates social, emotional, behavioral, and physical benefits of human-animal interaction. Children, in particular, have demonstrated a natural affinity for animals, and increased contact with animals may foster more nurturing behavior and social skills. Pets, of course, and in particular Mutt-i-grees®, are highlighted in the Curriculum and activities. In addition, therapy dogs and visits to animal shelters provide opportunities for enhancing the child-animal bond.
Understanding Dog Behavior
The Curriculum presents a unique opportunity to teach children effective ways to interact with dogs. Integrated throughout the Curriculum are specific lessons based on dog whisperer Cesar Millan's principles. These lessons were developed in conjunction with Cesar Millan to convey to children facts about the instincts and behavior of dogs so they can better interact with and care for dogs. For example, there are differences in the way people and dogs learn about the world around them. A child meeting someone for the first time would use his eyes to look at the person, his ears to listen to what the person is saying. A dog always uses his nose first, eyes second and ears third. Knowing this enables children to understand how to approach a new dog by first letting him sniff the back of the hand. It also provides a context for understanding the many different roles dogs may have, using their powerful sense of smell to assist in solving crimes and providing aide.