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Enhancing learning opportunities and wellbeing through animal therapy

Every Wednesday lunchtime, Papakowhai school children wait patiently at the school gate, waiting for Ted to arrive. As the dog; a small, white spoodle, and his owner, Elizabeth arrives, excited murmurs rise among the children. “It’s Teddy!” yells one. “Can I please pat Teddy?” say others excitedly.  

Even this, wherein the children ask for polite permission forms a lesson; the first of many learning opportunities Ted will provide over the next few hours. “I encourage all children to ask before patting Ted, using only one hand,” says Elizabeth. “This offers an opportunity for children to learn about consent, practice empathy and to gain valuable dog safety skills.”  

As Elizabeth and Ted move through the playground, children of all ages come up; half-eaten sandwiches in hand, requesting pats and exchanging friendly words before returning to their friends or running off for a last go on the slide before the bell rings.  

What is now known as ‘Ted’s Space’ started informally when teacher, Elizabeth noticed an increase in neurodiversity and anxiety in young students at her time as a New Entrant teacher at a local school. Knowing the many emotional support benefits that animals provide, Elizabeth started to bring Ted in once a week before demand meant setting the initiative up as its own charitable entity and extending the service to Papakowhai, Plimmerton, Rangikura, Pinehaven and Fergusson Intermediate schools, and Aotea College.  

The help that Ted provides is multi-faceted and is also unique to every child, says Elizabeth. “For some, a walk and talk with Ted helps them to work through feelings, whereas for others, connecting with Ted offers an opportunity to shed some of their shyness and come out of their shell,” she says. For one boy, who Elizabeth has been working for several years, time with Teddy encouraged a incredible transformation. “Through his relationship with Ted, he went from virtually non-verbal to having a voice – it was INCREDIBLE.” 

In the classroom, Ted also provides a tool to weave into lessons. Setting up hoops for Ted to jump through offers a beginner's lesson in physics, counting in a circle as Ted runs around the perimeter is a natural way to build on maths skills and when Ted doesn’t hear his command correctly, it is a resilience-building lesson in how making mistakes is natural and nothing to be ashamed of.  

As Ted leaves the classroom after an action-packed lesson, he is presented with a poem written by the students; a token of their appreciation and the impact he makes on each and every one of them.  

“He makes everyone feel excited and happy! 

He helped us with the science topic – forces in motion.  

Teddy is gentle and kind! 

He is nice and soft and woolly.  


In early 2023, Ted’s Space requested funding to support programme delivery in Porirua schools, to support them in supporting more neuro-diverse, disabled and neuro-typical students, add further dogs to its programme (they currently have two in training), create an educational programme to be used in other schools and continue to work with schools.

Acknowledging the many emotional, social and educational benefits that time with Ted offers our tamariki, Nikau Foundation was delighted to support, providing a $6,200 grant from the Porirua District Fund. “This funding is pivotal,” says Elizabeth. “It allows us to keep developing to keep up with demand while maintaining our presence in the lives of young people. Every school should have a Ted’s Space!”

This post was originally posted on the Nikau Foundation website


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