Are you a wild animal?

It’s time to explore the difference between wild and domesticated animals! Animals that are wild are called wildlife. Wild animals are animals that take care of themselves without depending on people. This means that they get their food, water and everything they need to survive on their own from the environment. Domestic animals are animals that rely on people to provide food, water and shelter for them. Domestication is a process that takes place over a long period of time and involves selectively breeding animals for the traits that we want.

The difference between wild and domestic animals may be confusing for children at times. For example, animals that live in zoos are wild animals but their needs are provided for by people. These animals are a special example of those animals and are not how most of the animals of that species live. Encourage children to think about how most animals of the same species live.  Another example is dogs and cats that have been abandoned and are left to care for themselves. They are still domesticated animals; they are just no longer under the care of a person and are no longer tame.

Neighborhood Animal Walk

Start by asking children what comes to mind when they hear the words ‘wild animal?’  What are some wild animals that they have seen or know about? Can they think of any animals that are not wild? What is the difference? Do any of them have pets or know someone who has a pet?

Take children on a walk through the neighborhood around the school.  Watch for animals. When you see animals ask the children: Is that a wild animal or a not wild (domesticated) animal? Why do they think so? What is the animal doing? Keep a record of the animals that you see. Record the children’s observations.

Classroom (or outdoor space)

Read aloud to the children the two “A Day in the Life” (opens as PDF) stories in the Growing Up WILD guide activity “What’s Wild?” Have children act out the stories or use a felt board or other visual to make the stories come to life. Discuss the differences in the two animals’ lives. Ask: How does the dog get what it needs? How does the squirrel get what it needs? Which of the animals is the wild animal? What is the difference?

Provide an assortment of plastic and/or plush animals for children.  As a class, sort them into baskets according to whether children think they are wild or domesticated. Some animals may fit into either basket (mice, rabbits) so you may need a third basket for animals that can be either.

Provide the felt board and sorting animals for the children during center time to explore and play with. Listen to the stories they make up with the felt board.

If you have a classroom pet, allow children to take part in the care of the pet. If they cannot directly take part in the care of the animal they could help the teacher remember, gather supplies, or take turns observing the pet for the day.

For this and other great activities use Growing Up WILD’s “What’s Wild?” or KinderNature’s Animal Olympics!

Helpful links:

  • Iowa’s Wildlife
  • Visit a local nature center or welcome animal guests into your classroom! Your county naturalist is a wealth of information and tools for programs too. Find your county naturalist at