Out on location with the Hamish & Milo sock puppets

It was a fun-packed day when we visited Barefoot Barns and took our Hamish and Milo sock puppets to visit the alpacas, sheep and ducks.

It’s becoming increasingly recognised now how much animals can really benefit children’s mental health and being outside with nature is incredibly powerful for mental health and wellbeing.

A recent study by the Institute of Education at UCL (2019) and commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, revealed that ‘children’s wellbeing increased after they spent time connecting with nature; the children showed an increase in their personal wellbeing and health over time, and they showed an increase in nature connection and demonstrated high levels of enjoyment.’

The report also highlighted how 79% of children felt more confident in themselves having spent time participating in outdoor activities.

Research into the impact of animals on children’s mental health is growing too and the benefits are being more widely recognised and acclaimed.

Hamish & Milo on Location Barefoot Barns

It is increasingly apparent how animals can help children to regulate, to feel connected and not alone with feelings and can help them to develop empathy, a greater sense of self-esteem, confidence and self-worth.

“Companion animals have been found to rival and even surpass humans’ ability to provide important self-object needs, such as self-cohesion, self-esteem, calmness, soothing, and acceptance. Increased self-esteem and self-worth may result in further benefits for individuals with anxiety, depression behavioural problems and educational attainment.”

(International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2017 Mar:14(3):234)

Hamish & Milo on Location Barefoot Barns Clare Williams

We know too that puppets can be a great way for children to explore feelings, share experiences and feel able to talk about their feelings and the many situations that can happen in their lives. The combination of animals and sock puppets was not one to be missed as we went out on location with our very own Hamish and Milo sock puppets.

‘Barefoot barns’ is a special place where the animals create a welcoming and happy environment to roam in and to feel the wind against your face as you take in the views and have the chance to meet and interact with the animals. The alpacas are friendly and eager to meet you and to receive their hand fed treats of carrots and broccoli. They seem to smile in a comical and kind way as they nussle in together and enjoy the nibbles in front of them.

We were very excited to take our sock puppets and to introduce them to all the animals. They especially enjoyed meeting the alpacas who seemed a bit disconcerted as they came forward with their almost smiley and intrigued faces but also a little anticipation, especially at our puppet Milo’s whiskers, which poked out and needed to be deciphered by the alpacas. Was this a new form of carrot or something they should avoid?!

Hamish, as ever, was excited and did all he could to hold himself together and to not eat the carrots, himself, whilst Milo was friendly and curious. At times he got a bit too close for comfort as the alpacas moved forward to reach for their treats.

It was then onto the ducks who were friendly and eager to meet us. Suprisingly, they were led by a little chicken who had been nursed as a tiny chick by Barefoot Barns when she was rejected and abandoned by her flock. She clucked and mothered them as they followed her across the paddock. Hamish and Milo were intrigued by the strange looking duck but enjoyed getting to know them.

Dandelion the baby goat was a delight and enjoyed making friends and eating whatever she could find, she was very interested in Milo’s whiskers and Hamish’s nose!

Childrens farms offer such a lovely way for children to soothe and stroke different animals, to feel the different textures of fur, wool, feathers and to allow them the chance to talk to, connect and engage at whatever level they feel most comfortable with the animals.

At Hamish & Milo Wellbeing Intervention, we are very aware of the emotional benefits of animals. It is increasingly evident through research and studies around pets, animals and mental health how petting, playing and interacting with animals reduces stress-related hormones. Playing with a pet raises our serotonin and dopamine levels helping to calm and relax the nervous system and when we smile and laugh at animal’s comical behaviour, it helps stimulate the release of these ‘happiness hormones.’ Being around animals can boost our wellbeing, and there’s emerging types of therapy based on spending time with animals.

Providing children with greater opportunities to embrace and enjoy time in nature especially with animals, and our sock puppets, can only be beneficial for our children’s overall mental health and wellbeing.

Barefoot Barns provide alpaca assisted therapy and therapeutic services to children and adults with disabilities, adults with dementia, mental health difficulties and adults and children in hospices. Find out more about Barefoot Barns

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Hamish with newspaper cartoon