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Supporting Children Through Pet Loss

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a close and personal account of losing a beloved pet here at our nursery.


Winnie Butter-Jelly, a beautiful Lion-Head rabbit, was gifted to us by a family nearly 9 years ago.  She instantly became a valued addition to the St. Michael’s family and even had her own file in the staff filing cabinet!


There was a suggestion box for her name.  We pulled out three names and the rest was history.  We did receive some quizzical looks in local pet supplies when we mentioned who it  was we were buying for!


Winnie was a huge part of nursery life teaching children about responsibility, commitment, dedication, empathy, meeting basic needs and unconditional love.


Furthermore, she had a huge impact on children’s personal, social and emotional development.  Winnie’s presence had a positive influence on children’s mental health and she was a huge part of our mindfulness and Hygge initiatives.  If a child was finding it difficult to start the day or a new child needed a moment before entering the playroom, Winnie would often offer a snuggle in exchange for a carrot or dandelion leaf!  She had an instant calming effect on both children and staff and delighted visitors with her ‘happy hops’ in the woods.


Winnie’s company during lockdown was welcomed by children and the wonderful key worker staff that kept the nursery running during that turbulent and unpredictable year.  She visited the Hygge Hut where small groups of children gathered to enjoy stories, sing songs or play in the calm, quiet, cosy environment.


She was always included in our high profile events such as the Royal garden parties to celebrate the late Queen’s Jubilee and the King’s Coronation.  Father Christmas would visit her during his rounds seeing the children, she’d enjoy a story about rabbits for World Book Day and of course her hutch was adorned with beautiful poppies the children had made during the remembrance period.


On the coldest of mornings, Winnie would be found happily hopping around in her run instead of being tucked up in her warm hay bed!  She would greet members of staff as they hurried to the sanctuary of the nice warm staff room.


Sarah recalls, “One of my funniest memories is one World Book Day, Winnie was loose in the garden and a member of staff was trying to entice her out of the bushes dressed in a skeleton costume!”


I can look back on last week and use an adjective that may surprise you.  It was really special.  Humbling.  I was incredibly proud of the children and the empathy that they showed.

Being respectful to our families beliefs and faiths, Nursery Manager Sarah Sexon, had emailed the parents to advise them of the sad news.

The following day, the children had been told the news and the outpouring of love and hugs was quite breathtaking.

There were questions and we answered these honestly, yet simply.  Staff talked to the children with the respect, honesty and dignity that the situation deserved.  The team explained that it is okay to feel sad, confused and even angry.  The team gently reminisced about all the funny and happy times we spent with her.  We even went to see Winnie’s latest extremely deep hole - she had clearly been busy plotting her summer holiday to Australia!


It was agreed that we didn’t set up a planned activity or a book of condolence or anything too scripted.  However, we did recognise that it was important to facilitate a platform for the children to initiate a conversation and to create supported opportunities for children to work through these feelings.  We did this carefully with a provocation table full of paper, pens, crayons and a photograph of Winnie Butter-Jelly.  We set up the table in Winnie’s favourite spot, under the ‘Tell Me Tree’ next to her hole she was so proud of.  Some children drew their family, the beach, unicorns and footballs.  Some children drew Winnie and the conversations happened very naturally with the children leading the conversation.


Elsewhere in Forest School, children were invited to re-pot the saplings as they were stifled in their small pots.  This inevitably led naturally to conversations about the circle of life, what plants to need to survive, using the words ‘dead’ and ‘dying’ and the linking it to the seasons.  Forest School is all about the ‘Circle’.  We sit in a circle to represent our community and unity.  We follow the natural rhythm of the day.  The position of the sun using a compass to discuss directions, plenty of Vitamin D to promote a healthy Circadian rhythm, the cycle of the seasons and life cycles of creatures.  We recognise that by giving children these opportunities in Forest School, it nurtures a child’s understanding and emotional well-being to equip them to feel safe and secure with change.


We read the book ‘Look for the Robin’ by Jane Somers.  This is a beautiful book where the robin spreads his message of love through nature.


Thank you for the privilege of spending time with your children.  It has been a special and cathartic time.


Thank you Winnie Butter-Jelly for being a kind and patient little bunny.  Thank you for being there for our little ones and the important messages that you uniquely spread with your presence.  We will miss you immensely but your hole will be used to plant a very special plant, with leaves as soft as your furry ears.


Happy hops to you Winnie, our brightest of bright eyes.


For more information and advice on pet loss and supporting young children in grief, please visit these helpful links.




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