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    Sanctuary Educational Programming: What Are Your Options?

    A pair of hands cupped and holding small seeds.
    Sanctuary education: sowing the seeds of knowledge and compassion.


    Whether you’re just getting started or have been running an animal sanctuary for quite some time now, education often becomes an important part of your organization’s mission. Though many sanctuaries choose to facilitate on-site tour programs as part of their education strategy, they aren’t always the most feasible or desirable type of education program. Not to mention all of the unforeseen and unique challenges sanctuary tour programs have had to face since the outbreak of Covid-19. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to provide educational opportunities for your visitors to connect with your sanctuary’s residents and mission that can be adapted to your specific needs and capabilities. 

    When designing an education program, sanctuaries will first need to ask the right questions and determine what will be most sustainable for their organization in the long-run. Here’s a list of some questions to help you get started:

    • What kind of education program is your sanctuary in the best position to design and facilitate?
    • What are your opportunities for education that draw on your sanctuary’s strengths and interests?
    • What financial, technological, spatial, and staffing resources are available to you?
    • What educational opportunities are currently being offered in your community or region that you might support and build on?
    • What educational opportunities are not being offered in your community that you could start facilitating?

    So, what exactly are your options when it comes to educational programming in a sanctuary setting? The following is an overview of several different programs that can be designed for and implemented at your sanctuary. Though all of the programs will not be relevant or possible for every organization, each one offers unique learning opportunities and challenges that should be considered prior to planning and implementation. 

    Educational Programs and Opportunities Well-Suited for Microsanctuaries
    While the educational programs and opportunities described in this resource can be and have been applied in microsanctuary settings, the interactions that can happen with respect to microsanctuaries are often quite distinct from the interactions that can happen with respect to macrosanctuaries. This is in large part due to how they are uniquely positioned with respect to things like geographical accessibility, funding, organizational structure, philosophy, and more. Fortunately, when it comes to designing and facilitating educational and outreach efforts for microsanctuaries specifically, there are a number of wonderful ways to provide opportunities for folks to connect with their resident(s) and mission that are well-suited for and can be adapted to their specific needs and capabilities. To read more about educational programs and opportunities well-suited for microsanctuaries, click here.

    On-site Programs

    Child in a black, brown and green coat is looking at a brown horse who is looking back at the child.

    On-site Tours

    On-site tours offer visitors a great opportunity to respectfully connect and interact with sanctuary residents in a more natural learning environment. They also allow sanctuaries the opportunity to share their residents’ stories, provide a great in-person call to action, and get good feedback from visitors. On-site tours are a proven method of positively changing visitors’ attitudes about animals and lessening their consumption of animal products.

    In addition to all of the opportunities on-site tours offer, there are some foreseeable questions and challenges you’ll want to take into consideration:

    • Safety: 
      • Animal sanctuaries are not petting zoos and it can seem invasive to have strangers coming through the residents’ home every weekend. If you have on-site tours where visitors either directly or indirectly interact with the residents, what measures, protocols, and practices will you have in place to ensure the residents are comfortable and safe throughout your program? 
      • What protocols will you have in place to ensure the safety of visitors, volunteers, and staff during your on-site tours? This can include both physical and emotional safety measures.
      • Will you have a contingency plan in the event of an emergency?
    •  Accessibility:
      • Where is your sanctuary located? Are you centrally located or near a major city? Geographical and financial limitations make it hard for a lot of folks to get to sanctuaries.  
      • What kind of terrain is your sanctuary located on? Will your tours be adapted for people with disabilities?
      • Will there be seating arrangements for folks who can’t stand or walk for long periods of time? Longer tours can be tough on kids, pregnant people, and older adults.
      • Will you have on-site restrooms for your visitors? 
      •  Will you provide and/or sell food and beverage for your visitors?
    • Tour guides and educators:
      • Who will facilitate your tours? 
      • What type of training will you provide your educators? 
      • Giving sanctuary tours is an incredibly rewarding experience. It can also be very emotionally and physically draining. How will you support your sanctuary educators?

    In-classroom Visits

    Multiple kids sitting at desks in a classroom while the teacher stands in front of the whiteboard.

    In-classroom visits are great opportunities for sanctuary educators to physically go into school settings and share their mission and extend their knowledge to students in a stimulating way. They can be tailored to meet the needs of individual classes or they can be designed as ready-to-teach programs that teachers and students choose from ahead of time. 

    Geographical accessibility, travel time, and travel costs are typically the biggest hurdles sanctuary educators will face if they decide to facilitate in-classroom visits. Educators will also need to have good classroom management skills. There are a lot of impactful exercises you can incorporate that are only possible in-person, such as role play. In-classroom visits can also offer hands-on learning experiences without the online distractions that come with virtual learning programs.

    Kids’ Camps

    One adult and three children are holding hands and wearing muddy boots.

    Facilitating a kids’ camp at your sanctuary can provide children and young adults fun experiential learning opportunities in a unique environment where they have the chance to interact with sanctuary residents, complete hands-on service-learning projects, and build friendships rooted in empathy and compassion. Camps vary in length, though most are a week-long and offer campers a chance to learn a lot. 

    Though they are a creative way to showcase your work and get more people to join your sanctuary community, designing a kids’ camp requires a lot of time and commitment – not only in planning, but in facilitating as well. It can also require a substantial financial investment depending on the added expenses it will take to operate a camp at your sanctuary. You’ll need to consider maintenance fees and materials costs and invest in quality camp facilities and facilitators that you can train and compensate fairly. You’ll also need to consider the health and safety of your residents, staff, and campers (examples: camper medications, dietary needs, and allergy considerations) and have a contingency plan in case of an emergency.

    On-site Workshops

    Adult in white tee shirt standing at front of a small room organizing post-it notes on the wall. Four other adults are sitting down at a table in front of the post-it notes while they take notes.

    On-site workshops are brief intensive educational programs you can design for a relatively small group of people that engage in discussion and activity on a particular subject or skill-share. A good workshop is usually organized by someone who can comfortably and enthusiastically facilitate a group of people without setting the entire agenda or injecting too many of their own ideas into the discussion. They should also include a good balance of different types of activities and breaks in a light-hearted and inspiring space. Workshops are great opportunities for participants to develop new relationships, meet new friends, and generate new ways of thinking as they share their experiences and learn together. 

    Though they are usually less tedious to plan than conferences, workshops require a lot of preparation. It’s important to know what your goals and roles are as a facilitator. You’ll want to plan and lead activities in a creative way that allows the group to do their best thinking together. Each participant should be given the chance to contribute to the discussion equally. You’ll also want to research and choose the right space, invite the right people, and involve a co-facilitator if necessary. Depending on the length of the workshop, you will likely want to consider providing food and beverages as well.


    Very large conference room with lots of people sitting in several rows of chairs that are facing a large white screen with text on it. One adult is standing in front of the screen speaking to the group of people.

    A conference is a formal gathering of people who share common goals and ideals. They typically focus on discussions and speeches covering specific topics over a long period of time. Participants are experienced and knowledgeable in the topics being discussed, though they do not necessarily have to be experts. Here are some reasons you might want to consider organizing and hosting a conference:

    • Conferences are usually held in larger spaces. This gives you a chance to reach and meet a large group of people. As such, they offer great networking opportunities for attendees who want to strengthen their community and be with like-minded people.
    • Conferences are a fun way to generate new ideas and approaches that can make your sanctuary work more effective. 
    • Conferences can also be a great place for you to establish thought leadership and fundraise. 

    Here are some of the challenges you might face if you decide to organize and host a conference:

    • Though great for networking, conferences offer participants fewer chances to get hands-on experience.
    • Because they are intended for larger audiences, conferences don’t always afford folks the ability to have all of their questions answered. 
    • Though they are incredibly rewarding, conferences can also be challenging to organize as they are expensive and very time-consuming. It is a huge responsibility to plan a conference both in physical and mental labor.
    • The venue can be costly – it needs to be comfortable and accessible. 
    • Conferences are long – sometimes up to 8 hours. You’ll want to provide food and beverages.
    • You’ll want to choose speakers carefully and compensate them fairly for their talks. At the very least, you’ll want to pay for their travel, lodging, and food.
    • You’ll also want to hire a technical team to handle lighting, audio, and visuals.
    • You will likely need one or more co-facilitators and/or volunteers to help you.
    • Some other questions to consider: 
      • Will you have a cancellation policy?
      • Will you have decorations and banners as well as lanyards and/or badges for attendees?
      • How will you advertise such a large event?

    Film Screenings

    Close-up of a film projector. The background is dark red.

    Film screenings are a fantastic way of getting people together to raise awareness on a specific issue. Movies spark ideas and invite people into conversation. As such, they can be powerful educational tools and act as catalysts for change. 

    Unless you choose to have a film screening in a paid venue, they cost relatively little money to host and can even provide you with the opportunity to fundraise and build your community. However, you’ll want to carefully consider the kind of equipment you’ll need. High quality projection and audio is important, as is comfortable seating. You’ll want to make careful considerations for people with disabilities. Here are some other questions to consider:

    • Will you provide food and beverages?
    • How will you advertise your film screening?
    • How many staff members and/or volunteers will you need to effectively host this event?

    Films are copyright protected.
    If you choose to host a  public film screening, you will need to obtain a film screening permission license (sometimes called a public performance license) from the film’s producers in order to show the film outside of a theater or home. This law applies whether or not you charge an admission fee for guests. Charging admission or collecting donations is also prohibited without a written contractual arrangement with the film’s producers, but there is an educational exception: The film must be a legitimate copy (example: Netflix), part of a formal course and/or curriculum, and shown by an instructor who is physically present.

    Virtual Programs

    A white and black cat is lying on a grey couch with red pillows next to a laptop that has a photo of the same cat on the screen.

    Since Covid-19 hit, animal sanctuary virtual offerings have proved to be a welcome alternative to on-site programming. Even as in-person visits begin to resume, virtual programs can still serve as complementary programming. Having virtual options can also be a great way to make your message accessible to as many communities as possible. Here are some advantages to offering virtual sanctuary programs:

    • Geographically convenient: Visitors can attend your virtual education programs from the comfort of their homes or wherever they have internet access.
    • Versatile: Virtual programs allow opportunities for at-home learners, classroom learners, larger audiences, businesses, and more, to meet your residents and learn about your mission.
    • On-screen text and supporting imagery can be utilized to make the content easier for visitors with different movement, vision, and hearing abilities to access.
    • Simple tools like Facebook and Instagram allow you to record your virtual visits live and save them for people to watch later. Tools like YouTube and Vimeo allow you to pre-record your visits in advance and edit as you see fit. Depending on the platform or application you use, people can share the link to your virtual program and join easily. 
    • Some tools, like Live:Air and Padcaster, allow you to insert pre-recorded videos into live footage. This can be extremely helpful if you want visitors to meet animals that are out of Wi-Fi range at your sanctuary.
    • Q&A: Depending on the platform you use, you can answer visitor questions during live video sessions or respond to viewer comments and questions on pre-recorded videos.

    In addition to all of the advantages virtual programs offer sanctuaries, there are some foreseeable questions and challenges you’ll want to anticipate:

    • Technical know-how:
      • Technology can be intimidating and at times, overwhelming, but this often depends on how simple or advanced you want your virtual program to be. One solution is to offer structured training for your education program facilitators that will help them feel more confident using the technology. You might consider hiring or soliciting volunteer help from an IT administrator who can train your staff and help manage and maintain your devices. If you need any more tips or advice, the #edutwitter community is a free and supportive network specifically for educators when it comes to technology.
      • When you’re planning a virtual event or program, it’s important to invest in the right technology. Consider whether the technology you’re evaluating is the right fit for your particular needs before investing in it. Taking the time to do this will help you avoid wasteful purchases. 
      • What platform and/or application will you use? Here are some video conferencing and hosting systems to look into: Zoom, GoToMeeting, Facebook, Instagram Live/IGTV, TikTok, Microsoft Teams, Webex, GoogleMeets, Vimeo, Airbnb Experiences, YouTube, Live:Air, and many more. 
      • Audio: If the person talking is far away from the recording device, it can be hard for participants to hear them, especially if there are loud noises in the background (example: rooster crowing). You might want to consider investing in wireless microphones.
    • Accessibility: 
      • Accessibility needs can vary for both sanctuary representatives and visitors depending on the internet connection and devices that have to be enabled with a camera and microphone.
    • Engagement:
      • It can be challenging to keep people engaged and focused in a virtual setting,  especially for long periods of time. Visitors can easily close their browser window or get distracted and move on to something else. 
      • It can also be tricky to answer questions while livestreaming. Consider having one sanctuary representative solely answering visitor questions via chat while another sanctuary representative guides visitors on-screen.

    Let’s look at some specific virtual program options more closely.

    Virtual Tours, Classroom Visits, and Field Trips

    A person with short red hair is sitting on a grey couch with a baby in their lap and small child sitting next to them. They are looking at a purple iPad together and smiling.

    Virtual tours and classroom visits have all of the same benefits of on-site tours without the in-person interaction and physical challenges. Though visitors won’t be able to meet your sanctuary residents face-to-face, virtual visits can provide unique opportunities for people to meet farmed animals in real time and in a context that does not view them as exploitable. They also provide visitors an opportunity to meet certain animals on-screen who are not interested in groups of strangers in their space or who are afraid of humans. In essence, they allow sanctuaries to preserve resident privacy and self-determination as well as everyone’s physical safety.

    Virtual classroom visits are usually more formalized than virtual tours. They can include 20-30 minutes of a visit with specific residents and staff followed by a discussion on a focused topic such as: animal care and health, modern food systems, plant-based food, human health, zoonosis, climate change, the impact of food systems on workers and local communities, and/or an exploration of any other theme that aligns with your mission. Like in-person visits, virtual classroom visits can be adapted to support state educational standards if necessary. There is also the possibility for students to ask and answer questions aloud or in a group chat if they’d rather do that.

    Downloadable Curricula and Lesson Plans

    Close-up of a light purple and light pink weekly planner. A stack of brown notecards, a pair of black eye glasses, and a multicolor felt cup coaster are laying on top.

    Downloadable curricula and lesson plans are affordable learning options that can help broaden the reach of your education programming and sanctuary mission even further. As with classroom visits, curricula and lesson plans can be adapted to meet the needs of specific areas of interest (science, history, math, language arts, etc.) and state educational standards. They can also be free or purchasable at a fixed price or suggested donation. They can be easily accessed with internet connectivity and offer flexibility for both educators and students looking to learn more from your sanctuary on their own.

    If you’re interested in designing a curriculum and/or lesson plan(s) for your sanctuary, here are some additional things to keep in mind: 

    A curriculum is a comprehensive educational document that lists and describes the specific learning standards, lessons, assignments, and materials used to organize and teach an entire educational course. As you might expect, curricula can take a considerable amount of time to design. A lesson plan might offer you a more feasible option depending on your time and interest, as it is a detailed outline of only one specific topic or assignment. It typically includes a preparation section, an instructional plan, and links to related resources for further learner exploration. Curriculum and lesson plan development both require knowledge of lesson planning strategies and state educational standards, which can change frequently. They also require you to carefully consider the needs of diverse groups of educators and learners. 


    Close-up of a large teal coffee cup is next to a laptop with several people on the screen in separate boxes.

    Webinars are live teaching sessions that offer information on a specific topic followed by a live question-and-answer portion with participants. There is a slew of advantages to facilitating and attending webinars:

    • Creating and facilitating a webinar costs relatively little money. They are a great option if you’re working with limited resources.
    • Attending a webinar costs relatively little money, making them an affordable learning opportunity for visitors. 
    • Webinars are typically short in length, lasting for 30-60 minutes, making them time efficient.
    • They are intended for a wide audience and can include real-time captioning features, making them more accessible and super convenient.
    • Though they are usually live, they can be prerecorded. 
    • People attending your webinar are interested in what you have to say. This gives you the opportunity to give background information that is usually more difficult to convey in other media.
    • They are an ideal place for sanctuaries to obtain feedback.

    As with every sanctuary education program, webinars are not without their own challenges:

    • They are scheduled presentations, so some folks will not be able to attend depending on the time.
    • Webinars are also more generic in nature as they are typically lecture-style presentations and less interactive than other forms of learning.
    • Technical difficulties can arise. Please see above for specific virtual programming technical considerations to take into account.

    E-courses/Online Courses

    A cream colored notebook with a pen on top is lying on a table. A laptop is behind the notebook and a white cup of coffee and small vase of dark pinks flowers with green leaves is sitting on the table to the right of the notebook and laptop.

    Similar to what you’d experience in a university course, e-courses and online courses deliver more in-depth knowledge on a particular subject matter as they are typically divided into multiple modules, lessons or units. Here are some of the opportunities e-courses can offer sanctuaries and their supporters:

    • The cost to facilitate and attend an e-course is relatively low since it’s online. As with other virtual offerings, there are no travel fees, lodging fees, etc.
    • Course content can be accessed any time as long as the learner is enrolled in the course.
    • Learners can work through the course at their own pace and review the materials as often as they’d like.
    • Sanctuaries can incorporate various resources including supplements and downloadable PDFs that compliment their course.
    • E-courses can include interactive activities such as assessments and exercises.
    • Certifications aren’t required, but are usually given after a learner has completed a course.
    • There are zero space restrictions, meaning there is no limit to the number of people you can admit. The number is completely up to you.
    • People can attend from anywhere in the world.
    • Online courses are great for sanctuary representatives who aren’t interested in public speaking.

    And here are some of the more challenging aspects of e-course development and facilitation:

    • They can be quite time-consuming to make, as they are comprehensive.
    • They can create a sense of isolation. While some people prefer to work independently, others find comfort in community, and e-courses offer little interaction between facilitators and learners.
    • There is often a lack of guidance and accountability on the user’s end.
    • As with other virtual offerings, instructors need training to tackle the technical aspects: use of video and audio recording equipment, virtual classroom and lecture capture software, Learning Management Software, e-learning technology, etc. This should be a thoughtful investment for your sanctuary and e-course facilitator.


    Eight different colored circles are forming a big circle. Inside the big circle it says, "Sanctuary Education Programs". Inside each small circle is the name of a different type of sanctuary education program and a small corresponding illustration.

    Deciding what type of education program(s) to design and facilitate at your sanctuary is an exciting and challenging task. Hopefully, this resource can serve you as an initial walk-through of the various benefits and challenges to different program possibilities. As with every decision you make, your organization’s mission, core values, strengths, and constituents will help guide you as you develop an education strategy and program. They will be your compass. 


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