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Getting to Know Rabbits

teacher shows children some rabbits

About this video

These supervised interactions between children and rabbits occurred during a science fair on the playground of a child care center. The supervision and guidance of an adult in such interactions increase the chances that they will be successful.

Interacting with living creatures can provide important lessons for young children. For example, when they are given jobs that help in the care of the animals, children can learn a sense of responsibility. We see the development of this sense of responsibility when the children in this clip discovered that the rabbits liked to eat grass and they eagerly began to bring the rabbits more grass. Knowing how to care for an animal can also help a child develop a sense of competence. In addition, teaching children to respect the feelings of animals can strengthen children’s capacities for empathy for others. For example, in the course of petting and holding the animals, Lauren noticed that her friend had paint on his arm and helped him to brush it off.

The teacher’s role in these interactions between children and animals was more than that of supervisor. Here are a few of the strategies she used:

  • Encouraging Collaboration: Like a team of scientists, children can learn a lot by talking about their observations and sharing and comparing their theories about what they have noticed about the behavior of the animals. Note how the teacher set up the space for this interaction so that several children could gather around the rabbits without crowding.
  • Demonstration and Explanation: Modeling how to handle animals and explaining the reasons behind it can help both the child and the animal to be comfortable together. Here, the teacher both explained verbally and demonstrated the correct way to pick up the rabbits. She also modeled a calm reaction when the rabbit jumped out of a child’s arms.
  • Questioning and Prompting: Questioning or probing children’s thinking about what they are experiencing can prompt them to be more aware of their own thoughts and feelings. For example, in this clip, the teacher asks, “What did it feel like?” when one of the children talks about touching a rabbit.
  • Scaffolding Scientific Behaviors: Suggesting next steps that the children can take strengthens children’s ability to make predictions about what might happen next and to test these predictions. For example, when Grant says, “Bunnies like dirt, right?”, the teacher suggests, “Well, try it and see. Put a little dirt on the bench and see.” Later in the clip, we hear Grant observe, “I don’t think bunnies like dirt.” This process of hypothesizing, experimenting, and observing the results are basic components of the scientific method used by scientists at all levels.

This experience helped children to move toward mastery of two Illinois Early Learning and Development Benchmarks:

  • Science
    12.A.ECa: Observe, investigate, describe, and categorize living things.
  • Science
    12.B.ECa: Describe and compare basic needs of living things.

Having a class pet can provide significant experiences that help children move toward mastery of these benchmarks. However, it is important to consider several factors before adopting a class pet:

  • Before bringing an animal into your classroom as a pet, consider the commitment it takes to provide good care for an animal. Rabbits live 8-12 years and require plenty of affection, regular care, and exercise. If you are not willing or able to make this commitment, consider adopting a lower-maintenance pet, such as a tropical fish, gerbil, or tarantula.
  • Once you have decided to adopt a rabbit for your classroom, be sure that it is a healthy one. Illinois licensing standards for child care centers permit healthy household pets that present no danger to children, unless prohibited by local health regulations. It is beneficial to have the rabbit spayed or neutered. A young rabbit is likely to adapt better to the noise and activity of a preschool classroom than an older animal.
  • Before adopting an animal, make sure that no children in your classroom are likely to have allergic reactions to it.



Part 1

Teacher: What does it feel like?

Lauren: It feeled good.

Teacher: Did it feel good? Did it feel soft like its fur?

Lauren nods.

Grant: But bunnies like dirt, right?

Teacher: Well, try it and see. Put a little dirt on the bench and see.

Grant gets handful of dirt from planter and places it on the bench.

Claire: If I was going to pick a bunny rabbit up, I would do it very softly and didn’t squeeze it. That’s what.

Teacher: (Nodding and smiling.) Would you?

Claire: Uh huh.

Lauren: When I holded one, I didn’t squeeze it.

Teacher: Well let me show you how to hold the bunny, and then maybe I can let you each have a turn. (Reaching for a rabbit.) Always put your hand under their bottom, so their little feet are sitting on your hand.

Lauren nods.

Teacher: (Demonstrating.) And then you—oops!—you hold them right up against you.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s what my dad did.

Teacher: Is that what your dad did?

Lauren nods.

Teacher: Want to try it?

Lauren nods.

Teacher: (Passing rabbit to Lauren.) Okay, now you have to put your hand right under her bottom.

Brynna: Can I hold her after Jessie?

Lauren holds rabbit and pets her.

Brynna: Can I hold her now?

A rabbit jumps out of girl’s arms.

Lauren: (Laughing and rubbing her arm.) He jumped right out.

Teacher: Did you feel his little fingernails?

Lauren: Yeah.

Jacob: Can I hold him now?

Teacher: Let’s let him sit for a while.

Lauren: (Pointing to her friend’s arm.) Jacob, you still have some white there.

Jacob looks behind himself to see what Lauren is pointing at.

Teacher: (Pointing to Jacob’s elbow.) What’s this?

Lauren: (Reaching for Jacob’s left arm.) It’s this one. (Rubbing the paint off Jacob’s arm.)

Grant: (Pointing toward the side of the building.) Is this the bunny rabbit’s toy? Is this the bunny rabbit’s toy?

Teacher: It is. (Talking to Claire.) Come over here if you want a turn holding.

Claire runs to stand by the teacher.

Teacher: Now you remember, what’s the first thing you do? (Reaching for the rabbit.) You put your hand under its bottom. (Placing the rabbit in the girl’s arms.)

Child in background: We feed it grass and carrots. When they’re in the wild, they eat—

Teacher: (to Claire) There. Did you notice what color that bunny’s eyes are?

Claire: Red.

Teacher: (Laughing.) Yeah.

Child: Can I hold him now?

Child: Let me hold him.

Part 2

The children are picking grass and placing it on the bench for the rabbits to eat.

Teacher: Why don’t you guys get some grass to put on here and see if the bunny likes it.

Max: (Putting handfuls of freshly picked grass on the bench.) This stunked. This stunked.

Lauren: (Observing.) Hey, he’s eating it! He’s eating it!

Link: (Talking to rabbit as he pets it.) Are you cute? You’re cute.

Various children pet the rabbits and gather grass for them.

Link: (Puts grass in front of a rabbit.) Here.

Child: Oh, no, no.

Grant: (Observing.) I don’t think bunnies like dirt.

Children continue to bring grass to the rabbits.

Link: Here you go. (Touches the rabbit.) You’re cute.

Link gently feels a rabbit’s ear and fur, then kneels down so that he is at eye level with the rabbit.

Link: Look at him!

Fred: (Observing.) Uh, oh. He looks like he’s gonna jump off.

Lauren: No, he’s, he’s staying on.

Part 3

Lauren: He’s tickling my—hey, he’s eating my grass. He’s eating the grass I gave him.

Child: He thinks it’s his food.

Link: Oh, no! Too much. That’s too much eating. …

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.A.ECa: Follow simple one-, two- and three-step directions.
Children responded to directions for picking up and holding the rabbits.
Language Arts
1.B.ECa: Use language for a variety of purposes.
Children conversed with the teacher about their observations of the rabbits (“fingernails,” color of eyes, texture of fur). Children conversed with each other about their interactions with the rabbits. For example, Lauren reassured her friend that the rabbit was not going to jump off the bench. Link also spoke to one of the rabbits as he petted it.
Language Arts
1.D.ECa: With teacher assistance, use complete sentences in speaking with peers and adults in individual and group situations.
Grant asked two questions: “But bunnies like dirt, right?” “Is this the bunny rabbit’s toy?” (He later shared his observation that they did not seem to like dirt.) Brynna and another child asked for permission to hold the rabbit.
Language Arts
5.C.ECa: Participate in group projects or units of study designed to learn about a topic of interest.
The children were intently engaged in learning about the rabbits. They touched and observed the rabbits and their surroundings (“He looks like he’s going to jump off.”)

Children tried out theories about the rabbits. For example, Grant put dirt on the bench to see whether the rabbits would eat it and found that the rabbits would not.

Several children picked grass for the rabbits and verbalized their observations (“This stunked!” “Hey, he’s eating it!”)
12.A.ECa: Observe, investigate, describe, and categorize living things.
The children actively investigated the rabbits and experimented to categorize what the rabbits would and would not eat (e.g., they would eat grass; they wouldn’t eat dirt).
12.B.ECa: Describe and compare basic needs of living things.
The children described the rabbits’ behaviors and what they would and would not eat. They also observed how the rabbits interacted with their environment (e.g., they wouldn’t jump off the bench).
12.B.ECb: Show respect for living things.
The children were careful in their handling of the rabbits. They wanted to find out what the rabbits would eat. When they saw that the rabbits ate grass, they picked more grass for them.
Social Studies
14.A.ECa: Recognize the reasons for rules in the home and early childhood environment and for laws in the community.
The children recognized that there were rules for how to pick up and hold the rabbit correctly.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
Children communicated their observations of the rabbit’s behavior. For example, Lauren said, “He jumped right out.” Several children expressed a wish to hold a rabbit. Link expressed affection for a rabbit, saying, “You’re cute.”
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
The children watched the rabbits closely, talked excitedly with each other about their observations, and quickly responded to suggestions (e.g., experimenting to see whether the rabbits would eat grass).
Social/emotional Development
31.A.ECa: Show empathy, sympathy, and caring for others.
Lauren noticed a white material on Jacob’s arm, pointed it out to him, and then brushed it off.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECc: Use socially appropriate behavior with peers and adults, such as helping, sharing, and taking turns.
Children shared ideas and feelings about the rabbits with the teacher and each other. They were respectful of and responsive to each other as they shared grass with the rabbits. Several children took turns holding the rabbits, waiting patiently for turns.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017