Delle the Dolphin Says: Animals Have Needs and Wants, Too! (Grades 3–5)

Hundreds of schoolchildren around the world are getting the opportunity to meet and interact with a “dolphin,” thanks to Edge Innovations’ life-size robotic dolphin named Delle, whose larger-than-life personality and message of compassion are captivating—and empowering—young audiences. You can see her here in “Dolphin Adventure,” hosted by TeachKind and Edge Innovations:

Delle is an ambassador for all animals. Her mission? To inspire kids to take care of our world while allowing wild animals to live free. Her powerful presentation highlights the importance of having empathy for others and reminds students that animals are individuals with complex lives and families. It’s also an excellent springboard for the following lesson on needs and wants. Use these resources to discuss with students the importance of acknowledging that all animals are individuals with thoughts and feelings—and the importance of considering not only animals’ basic needs but also their unique wants.

Edge Innovations

It’s important for students to be able to distinguish between needs and wants for economic reasons so that they’ll grow into responsible consumers who understand that groceries, the water bill, and health insurance payments take priority over lavish vacations, expensive clothes, and dining out. But students must also learn that self-care is essential to our overall health and well-being, too, and that from time to time, it’s OK—and even vital—to spend money on things that we want. For example, expenses such as a plane ticket home to visit family for the holidays or a membership to a yoga studio, though certainly not necessary to our immediate survival, should be budgeted for (when possible) if we want to live a long and fulfilling life. This is an especially important lesson for students who have experienced trauma. As educators, we must take into consideration the adverse childhood experiences our students may have had and use trauma-informed strategies to help them recover and succeed in school and beyond.

If you haven’t already covered the concepts of needs and wants with your students, begin by explaining them using a pyramid graphic organizer. Draw a large triangle on the board and title it “Pyramid of Needs and Wants,” loosely based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Divide the pyramid into four levels. From the base up, label each section and provide a short description, as follows. If you can, use two different colors to distinguish between needs and wants. (See the image below for reference.)

  • Basic Needs: things we must have every day to survive
  • Next-Level Needs: things we must have regularly to survive and be healthy
  • Basic Wants: things we must have regularly to be happy
  • Next-Level Wants: things we would like to have that would make us happy

Before filling in the pyramid, explain each section. Point out the difference between a need and a want. Our needs must be met in order for us to survive. Our wants aren’t necessary for our survival, but they can make us happy and healthy.

Fill in each section of the pyramid, recording student input as you go. Keep in mind that this preliminary activity should be about the needs and wants of humans so that students can gain a basic understanding of these concepts. Later in this lesson, they’ll discuss the needs and wants of other animals and their similarities to those of humans. Use the following talking points to guide students’ thinking.

  • Basic Needs: Ask students what they need every day in order to survive. (Answers: food, water, sleep, and a clean, safe place to live.) Point out that this section of the pyramid is the largest of the four because we need these things every day—without them, we can become sick and even die.
  • Next-Level Needs: Ask students what else they need in order to survive and be healthy. (Answers: regular visits to the doctor and dentist, family to take care of them and love them, exercise, freedom to move around, etc.) Ask students to consider what would happen if one of these needs were neglected over time. For example, if you never went to the doctor, you could become sick. Or if you never exercised, you could become weak and unhealthy. Point out that this section of the pyramid is slightly smaller than the one below it because we don’t need these things as often or as urgently as we need the ones in the first section.
  • Basic Wants: Ask students to think of things they like to do that cost little to no money. (Possible answers: playing outside with friends, reading, singing, spending quality time with family members, exploring nature, eating their favorite foods, or snuggling with their animal companion.) Note that while we can survive without these things, they make us happy, some allow us to connect with those we love, and they’re good for our overall health and well-being. Point out that this section of the pyramid is slightly smaller than the one below it because these things are not as essential as our basic needs and next-level needs.
  • Next-Level Wants: Ask students to think of material items they like or things they like to do that cost money. (Possible answers: videogames, skateboarding, toys, new clothes, cell phones, or candy.) Explain that these things are like “icing on the cake”—we can survive without them, and in excess, they may even cause us problems. For example, if you spent all weekend playing videogames, you probably wouldn’t be meeting your next-level needs or fulfilling your basic wants, which, as discussed, are good for your health. Point out that this is the smallest section of the pyramid because it’s best if we enjoy these things only occasionally or in small amounts.

Animals have wants, too, and just like us, they must be allowed to satisfy them in order to be their happiest and healthiest. All animals have the ability to feel pain and suffer, love their families, and have a strong desire to live free from harm and human exploitation. Use the following reading passage and activities to encourage students to see other animals—even those as seemingly different from humans as frogs—as individuals with both needs and wants.

Review and discuss the following answers in each category as a class.

  • A frog’s needs: water, healthy food, a clean and safe place to live, space to hop around
  • A frog’s wants: favorite foods, a home in nature, freedom to hop around and explore
  • My needs: water, healthy food, a clean and safe place to live, space to move around
  • My wants: Answers will vary based on students’ experiences. (Possible answers: time with friends and family, favorite foods, favorite toys)

Discussion Questions

  1. Imagine that all your basic needs were met but you could never see your family or friends again. How would that make you feel?

Answers will vary based on students’ experiences. Possible answer: Even if I still had healthy food and water and were safe from danger, I’d miss my family and friends. It would make me very sad never to see them again.

  1. We know that humans and frogs—and all other animals—can become sick and even die if their needs aren’t met. But why is it important for us to have the things we want, too?

Answer: It’s important to have the things we want because they make us happy. Being able to enjoy the things we want, like our favorite foods and activities, can actually make us healthier.

  1. Animals can’t tell us in words when they’re hurt or when they need help. Imagine that you couldn’t use words to communicate these things to others. How would that make you feel?

Answers will vary based on students’ experiences. Possible answer: I’d feel frightened if I couldn’t tell someone when I was hurt or in need of help. I’d be afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get the help that I needed. When I’m hurt, it makes me feel better to tell someone how I’m feeling.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind