DENVER, Colo. (KUSA) — When the pandemic took classrooms away from children, there were some consequences. It was especially difficult for young children, who may have failed to develop their social and emotional skills.
As classrooms reopened, a psychologist in Colorado saw the need and wanted to help in this area.
Dr Jessica Pfeiffer said the pandemic has had an impact on the social interactions of young students.
“When COVID hit, there were so many changes to this remote learning and it was a space for kids to share, ‘Hey, I miss being with my friends. I miss the routines.
Pfieffer said he missed development opportunities.
“We created Barn Buddies, which is a pen pal program that students can write to animals about life and the animals read the letters and rewrite,” she said.
They write to pigs, goats and alpacas.
The barn buddies all respond with the help of Natalie Hittmeier.
She told the children that she felt like she could understand what the animals were saying.
“I don’t want to be the bad news spoiler, but animals can’t write,” Pfeiffer said.
Hittmeier said she doesn’t speak for animals, she interprets for them.
“They whisper in my ear. I listen and write it down and send it back,” she said.
Hittmeier is a social worker who works on children’s mental health.
“No one tries to deceive children. It’s, for us, coming from that social-emotional perspective, how we’re able to create that safe space for kids to communicate about whatever they’re feeling,” Hittmeier said. “Your pet isn’t going to say something mean to you like your friend might if he’s not thinking.”
Hittmeier said the animals would raise an issue they were having with one of their friends.
“Let’s say one of their friends is being mean to them and they don’t know what to do, so they’ll ask the kids for help and advice on what to do in those situations,” Hittmeier said.
Chloe James is a first-grader happy to give advice to her friends on the farm.
“They wanted to know questions about, for example, how they could interact with their feelings,” she said.
Like the other children, Chloe was happy to finally meet her correspondent.
“Right now more than ever, we need ways for our students to connect, not just with humans, but with animals,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer said the farm visit teaches children non-threatening behaviors.
“I think there’s something very holistic about being in a relationship with an animal,” she said.
The Barn Buddies program works with schools to teach children through a neurobiological lens, not just an academic one.
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