Why Teach Children about One Health?
S&T Policy Fellowships
Master of Public Health program
Kansas State University
Dr. Deborah Thomson is a clinical veterinarian, a K-12 educator and curriculum developer, a first responder during natural disasters, a public speaker, a musician, and – most importantly – an advocate for the growing field of One Health. While this concept is still taking root in adult academia, Dr. Thomson has decided to start planting the seed of One Health knowledge into elementary schools across the U.S.
Q: How did you first hear about One Health?
I learned about One Health in 2008 while at veterinary school. I should have learned about it when I was in preschool in the 1980s- but it did not really “exist” back then. I have thought back to several of my major life decisions and truly feel that I would have made different choices if I knew that One Health existed. In the end, I found a way to work with my passion- One Health, but it was not a direct route.
Q: Do you have a teaching background?
I taught English Language Learners in a middle school before attending veterinary school. I created activity-based lessons to get my students to speak English and forget their anxieties when they were speaking to me in English. My lesson plans typically engaged all their senses and got the students moving during class. It was so much fun!
Also, before becoming a veterinarian, I taught music to elementary school students as well as music and English to adults. Several studies have shown that teaching both music and science in the classroom prepares student’s multidisciplinary thinking skills which can be used in scenarios outside of the classroom. Multidisciplinary thinking helps students to problem-solve in innovative ways while encouraging empathy and understanding of problems that were previously outside their knowledge (Wiebe et al. 2011; Lippi et al. 2010). These positive teaching experiences helped shape my development of the present-day One Health curriculum that has been used in the US and abroad.
Q: Why is teaching One Health to children important?
It is simple: we can change how society views and values the environment by educating children. A tangible example is teaching kids about the harmful effects of littering. The discarded litter is not good for the health of the environment nor the health of a wild animal if it ingests the litter. The animal may bring fleas or ticks or other pathogens to a person’s environment. The risk of a zoonotic disease increases in this situation. It is easy for children to understand the idea that a sick environment can lead to sick animals and sick people.
Teaching One Health to kids is relatively easy. However, communicating the concept to adults is challenging because they already have accepted academia-established scientific silos.
When building lessons for children, it is important to remember that kids tend to have various attention spans based on their age and environment. If we can keep them engaged in a One Health activity for the appropriate duration, the students can both enjoy and absorb the lesson’s material. From there, they can go home and tell their caregivers about the day’s One Health lesson- this way you are teaching more than one generation with just one lesson! This is how you change your community and society.
Q: How do you describe One Health to the general public?
The first thing I say is, “it is teamwork between people who care about the environment, animal health, and human health.” From there, I tend to get follow-up questions which stimulates a conversation based on the other person’s priorities and interests. The big picture is that by encouraging teamwork, we can simultaneously keep the environment, animals, and people healthy all at the same time.
Q: How do you describe One Health to children?
I use a simple Venn diagram with three circles comprised of different colors (Figure 1). I draw an animal in one circle, a tree in the second, and a person in the third. In the center of it all, there is a star or a number “1” representing where One Health fits.
Figure 1. The Venn diagram is familiar for most kids over the age of eight and it is easy for them to understand it. Sometimes the kids will take notes in class - it is inspiring to see young children understanding these life-changing concepts.
Q: How do you see the future of One Health?
The future of One Health involves many different generations of scientists. Therefore, there is an absolute need for teaching young people about the importance of One Health. In addition, the general public must start to understand the natural interdependency between the health of the environment, animals and people to ensure a healthy planet for future generations. If we want to have lasting effects and change society with our actions, we must invest in children.
Lippi D, di Sarsina PR, D’Elios JP. Music and medicine. J Multidiscip Healthc. 2010;3:137-141
Carrier, S., Wiebe, E., Gray, P., Teachout, D. Sarah. Biomusic in the Classroom: Interdisciplinary Elementary Science and Music Curriculum Development. School Science and Mathematics, John Wiley & Sons. 2011.