Manchester’s Donkey Sanctuary supported vulnerable children to improve their wellbeing and confidence through animal therapy

21 March 2023
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In Manchester, School-Home Support practitioner Clancey has been visiting a local donkey therapy sanctuary with some of the children she works with. It has been a fantastic opportunity for the children, identified by the school as in need of some extra support with their mental health, to access a new experience that can support them to build up their confidence and improve their wellbeing.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Abbey Hey, Manchester, offers a range of Donkey Assisted Activities to support the development of life skills and wellbeing, helping children and young people to deal with some of the challenges of everyday life more successfully, while also promoting a positive and respectful attitude towards donkeys. As Abbey Hey Primary School is the most local to the sanctuary, children were invited to participate in the programme.

The Donkey Sanctuary promotes the principle that donkeys are intelligent, emotional creatures who are highly sensitive to their environment and whom we can share a special connection with. For many children, this precious time spent in a natural setting with such evolved creatures enables them to build and develop important life skills, such as self-awareness, managing emotions and communication. By just observing the donkeys’ responses to them, children can learn to regulate their own body language, thoughts and emotions as well as use that time to reflect on personal hopes and goals.

For some of the Y6 children on Clancey’s caseload, they have been taking part in an 8 week programme of weekly 2 hour visits to the sanctuary. The sessions are completely animal-led and trained staff supervise activities where both the donkeys and children work together.

The sessions are adapted to the needs and choices of individual children in the group so that the children are able to follow a personal path of activities that they feel would benefit their own wellbeing alongside that of the donkeys. Throughout the course, the children learn about behaviour of the donkeys, the dietary needs through preparing meals for over 20 donkeys, the environmental requirements for these animals to thrive and how to ensure any additional needs of the donkeys are met. The children work collaboratively on numerous care tasks, with constant opportunities to discuss and self-reflect as they deepen their knowledge and understanding of both the donkeys and themselves.

The children told us what they liked most about their sessions

The donkeys were very cute and it felt calming and therapeutic when I was there with them. I liked seeing them every week and helping to keep them entertained! I like learning about how the donkeys worked and their body language.

I loved the poo-picking lesson and just overall loved everything. It made me feel very excited. I loved patting the donkeys and also feeding them. It was great setting out all the spices, wheat, hay and toys for them.

I enjoyed seeing the donkeys, giving them food and helping with their health.

I loved touching the donkeys, it made me feel calm.

Thank you to The Donkey Sanctuary Manchester for this fantastic opportunity!

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