The Teacher Spotlight highlights the work of various humane educators, giving them a chance to share their stories and tips and inspire other compassionate teachers like you to take action for animals through education.
Meet Becky Cummings, a homeschooler who’s been instilling compassion for animals at home for almost two years. Prior to her homeschooling experience, she was a classroom teacher and then the owner of a tutoring company. A few years ago, she began embracing an animal-friendly lifestyle, and she’s now working toward going fully vegan. She’s taken the time to answer some questions for us below.
How does compassion for animals fit into your homeschool curriculum?
We unschool, so daily life is our curriculum. We learn by experience, and each activity my children choose is meaningful to them. Compassion for animals occurs naturally through having conversations, reading books, watching documentaries, and taking day trips. Maybe we are on a hike and find a snake. This leads to a great opportunity to study snakes in their natural habitat. My kids will research the animal more on the computer once we get home. Last year, they wanted to give to an animal shelter for the holidays. So, we went shopping and bought dog and cat food and toys, which they got to deliver to our local shelter.
How has studying animal issues benefited your children?
My children have learned to be kind to all living beings. They understand that we are all connected and feel empathy for a homeless man on the corner or a bug on the sidewalk.
What has been the response of your homeschool community (other homeschoolers, parents you know, etc.) to your humane education?
We share our lifestyle and beliefs through gentle conversations. My children know that not everyone thinks like them. We plant seeds with our choices and words.
What challenges, if any, do you face as a humane educator, and how do you overcome them?
My biggest challenge has been food. My husband is not vegetarian. My kids were not raised vegetarian in their early years. Now I cook only plant-based, although my children make their own choices when we are out at restaurants. I also have them cook with me, so they find joy in preparing plant-based meals. When we make things in place of meat, such as bean burgers, I emphasize how wonderful it is that no animals were harmed.
What advice would you give to a fellow homeschooler who wants to try humane education but isn’t sure where to begin?
Keep it simple. If you have animals at home, make sure your kids are involved in their care, whether that’s filling up the cat’s water, taking the dog for a walk, or cleaning out a tank. Grab a book from the library about an animal your kid likes and learn more about that animal. Compassion will develop naturally.
What advice would you give to parents who are interested in homeschooling?
Many parents are afraid they don’t have the knowledge, skills, or patience to homeschool. It’s that fear that keeps many from taking the leap. My advice is to just do it! You can’t mess up. If it doesn’t work out, the kids can always go back to school. There is no rule that you have to homeschool for their entire school career. It can be any amount of time. Children are naturally curious and will learn! You will both be learning together. Enjoy the process, experience the freedom, and trust the human spirit to learn exactly what it needs.
Do you have any homeschooling tips for parents who want to supplement their children’s at-home learning during the pandemic?
In a time of isolation and technology-driven learning, focus on the opposite. Get outside! Start a hiking club or Lego meetup. Go play at a park, or do a book swap with friends. When topics come up naturally that interest your children, then dive deeper.
What inspired you to write Gobble Gobble Mr. Wobble?
We used to drive by our town butcher every day when we lived in Connecticut, and it made me sad. One fall, I started to think about all the turkeys eaten on Thanksgiving, and it got to me. I decided to do something about it. As an author, I know I can reach thousands, maybe millions, with my books. I wanted to offer a story about a turkey who was loved and respected as a friend. So, I came up with the idea that a farmer would “have his turkey” on Thanksgiving—but as the guest of honor. I hoped this story would gently make people think about what they ate. I even had a vegan chef help me create Thanksgiving recipes to add to the back. From there, I decided I should do a whole series called Critter Compassion. My second book, about the fur industry, called Don’t Share, Ms. Hare, came out February 2021.
Inspired to start teaching compassion for animals? TeachKind will walk you through every step of the process and provide free resources along the way.
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