Eight-year-old Sammy loves reading aloud to Fawn. That’s because Fawn doesn’t ask annoying questions or criticize the youngster’s pronunciation. Mostly he wags his tail and pricks up an ear.
Fawn is a golden retriever.
The idea of “listening dogs” began in Salt Lake City, Utah, back in 1999, part of an organization called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) Since then, more than 3,000 dog therapy teams across the globe have trained and registered with the program.
From R.E.A.D.’s website:
The Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program improves children’s reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to an animal. But not just any animal. R.E.A.D. companions are registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children.
R.E.A.D. is the first and foremost program that utilizes therapy animals to help kids improve their reading and communication skills and also teaches them to love books and reading.
Today, thousands of registered R.E.A.D. teams work throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain and beyond.
Wow! There are so many reasons why this is a wonderful idea. Reading is vital for children to succeed in school and in life, but many of them struggle with reading: they feel self conscious and hate to read aloud in class. So what better listener than a friendly, non-judgmental dog? Instead of being terrified of making a mistake or being laughed at if they mispronounce a word, children can have fun reading.
Here’s how The Washington Post describes the program in action:
At the Charles E. Beatley Jr. Central Library in Alexandria on a recent night, there was a waiting list for “Paws to Read,” with children clutching books outside the room hoping to get a turn.
Some had learning disabilities, and their parents wanted them to practice in a nonjudgmental place. Some were learning English and liked reading without having their pronunciation corrected with every word. Some were shy about speaking up in class. And some, like Sean and his sister Mary, love reading and had been looking forward all week to reading to Tavish, a Hungarian vizsla.
“They have so much fun,” librarian Ginny Rawls said. “The kids just light up. It’s really a wonderful program. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
There must be some downsides.
“Well,” Rawls paused to consider. “Shedding?”
There are other benefits for the kids too, including lowering of blood pressure and heart rate, increased relaxation, and a tendency to forget about pain and limitations. When children get nervous, their blood pressure can rise very high, but studies have found that if a dog joins the scene, blood pressure will go down, whether the child and dog are just sitting together or the child is reading to the dog.
Therapy dogs receive five months of training. Not all dogs should apply for the job, however, and especially not the ones that bite or growl. Greyhounds are particularly well-suited because they do not bark and have a short coat that is less likely to trigger allergies.
What do the kids think about reading to dogs?
From Learning Express:
Seven year old Jesse said of the program, “Last year in grade 1, I didn’t know how to read. It didn’t make me feel very good about myself. After I started to read to Chelsea I felt good. I like to read to her because she helps me with words and she’s a good listener. Now I can read a lot of different books. That makes me very happy. My favorite thing I like about Chelsea is that she does cool tricks and barks to say ‘bye’ to me.”
Enough to bring tears of joy to a teacher’s eyes!
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