Dogs Lend a Paw to Help Kids Read

Dogs are more than a human’s best friend; they can help calm people down after a disaster or assist someone who is blind as a service dog. Recently, dogs have been brought to local libraries to lend a paw to help kids read. The Harlingen Public Library in Texas holds a program called “Paws to Read,” where children read to therapy dogs every Wednesday. Ocho, one of the therapy dogs, is one of the canines who has helped Morticia Castro improve her reading skills. Her father, Derick Castro, said that his daughter did not have trouble reading but it did help her in other areas. He continued by saying that anything that can help his daughter with her confidence and education is something he supports. He also would recommend this program to other parents.

During the program, children read a book of their choice to a dog for about eight to 10 minutes. Patty Edwards, the grandmother of another child in the program, said that her grandchild, Lauren Silva, has also improved her reading because she is more proficient, tackles large words and now reads chapter books. The program is one of many that uses dogs to help children learn valuable reading skills. Children can build their reading confidence by not having the added stress of having to read to their peers.

In an article titled Man’s Best Friend as a Reading Facilitator, teachers said that children gained confidence by reading aloud and have used reading strategies after a few months of reading to a dog. They can also gain experience reading aloud with out the fear of being judged because a dog’s non-judgmental appearance can reassure and comfort children who may be afraid of making mistakes while reading. Dogs can also help children practice reading aloud especially if the child is not sure of their reading skills or is embarrassed about public speaking.

Studies have shown that children read better when their audience is not a group of peers but a dog. These studies follow a theory that says since a dog is attentive and not judgmental, children feel more comfortable working through any difficulties they might have such as sounding out words or putting together sentences. Children feel this because they know the dog will not laugh or mock them. Dogs take away the social pressure for beginning readers to get it right. Dogs enjoy the story even if the reader stumbles on words or is slow when reading the story. The dog’s attentiveness and lack of judgment should help the child improve and continue to read. Studies have also shown that children who read with dogs improve their skills better than children who read without dogs.

A program based in Salt Lake City called READ, or Reading Education Assistant Dogs, is meant to help children improve their reading skills through a registered therapy team who act as reading mentors. Rae Louie, a principal at Bennion Elementary School, said that students who participated in the program experienced outstanding growth. Louie continued by saying that children also enjoyed reading to themselves, showed a curiosity for different books and gained self-confidence in both their reading ability and interacting with others in a positive manner.

Aside from the program using dogs to lend a paw to help kids read, the dog’s owner also helps as well. Trained owners help children by asking them questions about the story they are reading. For example, the owner might tell the child that their dog is curious about what will happen next and ask them what they think will happen. Parents can adopt this activity by having their children read to their dog at home and ask questions related to the story.

Children are increasing their confidence and learning how to read out loud by reading to dogs. These furry reading companions are part of reading programs that different libraries hold to help children improve their reading skills. Children who read to dogs are more comfortable reading aloud because they do not need to be afraid of being judged if they read a word incorrectly. Reading Education Assistant Dogs was created to help kids by using dogs to lend a paw to improve their literacy skills. The owner who sits with the dog asks children questions about the book they are reading together. If someone wants to have their dog become a reading dog for READ, they have to register with a animal-assisted therapy group, either order a training manual or training packet, and read the manual, watch a DVD and complete the training packet. Once the packet is complete the person can send in the forms and later be certified to be a READ team.

By Jordan Bonte


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