During spring and summer, many children inform me in absolute innocence that their families raise kittens. I have to explain to them that, actually, we support spaying and neutering cats so that they DON'T have babies. While this often sparks a conversation about how too many kittens is a problem, and that while kittens are very cute and fun to play with, they don't stay small forever.
While the children listen to me, riveted, when I ask them to guess how many cats and kittens we accept every year (over 1,500 in 2016), I then explain that the reason there's so many is because people didn't spay and neuter their cats (among other reasons). When we start talking about how kittens need more than food, water, and shelter, we can then start talking about how kittens (and all pets) rely on us to take care of them for their entire lives. These responsibilities include taking them to the veterinarian not only when they are sick or hurt, but also for special vaccines so they don't get sick in the first place.
Children often understand that too many kittens leads to problems when it comes to finding homes for them all. Many of them know, from their own past experiences, how difficult it is to find homes for just one litter of kittens and sympathize with animal shelters tasked with taking on dozens (if not hundreds) of litters. Some kids even understand that finding homes for their kittens mean that kittens at the animal shelter have to wait for a different home.
While children understand, the adults in their lives sometimes hesitate. While it's true that spaying & neutering can be costly, the price of properly caring for an entire litter of kittens is likely even higher. (See a list of local veterinarians here to find one that's right for you.) The price of not caring for those kittens can lead to them getting sick, spreading diseases to other animals or people, or even dying. That's not a conversation I'd like to have with a child.
My suggestion, as an educator, is that if you'd like your children to be involved with raising kittens or observing the "miracle of life" is to foster. Fostering a mother and her litter gives you and your children the opportunity to responsibly provide care for a litter of kittens without adding to our local pet overpopulation. You'll also have the added support of the entire RHSPCA cheering you on, helping with care and providing vaccines, and checking in to make sure you and your fosters are doing well. Fostering teaches children charity, giving, altruism and nurtures a love for animals while preserving logistics of responsibility and communication.
Not only do you and your family get to give back to your community and help animals, you'll be teaching them responsibility by refraining from increasing the number of homeless animals. Your family will also get to see how much care is actually involved in raising kittens, such as vaccinations and their boosters, de-worming, and ongoing neonatal & "pediatric" care. The task of finding homes is not yours alone, but that doesn't mean foster homes aren't involved if they want to be. If you find homes for your foster kittens, that's fantastic! We also work with rescue groups who regularly take kittens from us, so your fosters may be accepted by limited admission ("no-kill") rescue group in New York or Massachusetts where there is a higher concentration of people looking to adopt.
There's also another great option when it comes to teaching kids about the perils homeless pets endure and the "miracle of life." The Adventures of Milo & Otis (1986) has it all, and you won't even have to scrub amniotic fluid out of your carpet.