When You *Want* Reading to Go to the Dogs
Elizabeth Bluemle - September 16, 2010
Did everyone catch the recent medical study that showed kids’ reading skill and speed both improved when they read to dogs?
This makes sense, for at least a couple of reasons. Most importantly, reading to a fuzzy animal who won’t judge, criticize, or correct you takes the pressure off the reading-aloud experience. Secondly, reading aloud to a creature who cannot read at all turns even struggling readers into experts by comparison. Both circumstances build confidence. And let’s face it, cuddling up with a furball to read aloud is a lot less intimidating than standing up and stammering out sentences in front of a roomful of kids and your teacher.
But in addition to being more fun, and more comfortable, reading to dogs also turns out to have measurable results.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine teamed up with Tony La Russa of the All Ears Reading program, an organization that teams kids and animals at the Animal Rescue Foundation of Walnut Creek, Calif. Together they devised a study that followed children’s reading skills before and after a program of reading to rescue dogs over the course of several weeks, assessing improvement in both fluency and enjoyment levels. They found that third-graders in a public school improved their reading by 12% over the course of 10 weeks, while a second study with home-schooled students showed an improvement of 30% over the course of the same period. And, according to the UC Davis article about the study, “…75 percent of the parents reported that their children read aloud more frequently and with greater confidence after the study was completed.” A downloadable summary of the final report can be found here. And the UC Davis site has a charming video about the study.
Now, that’s something to wag your tail about! (Yes, I couldn’t resist.) We’re thinking about doing this kind of program at the bookstore. Have any of you booksellers or librarians tried it? We’d love to hear your stories!
I have created a board book series explicitly designed for young children to read to their pets. My daughter learned to read, lugging all her books downstairs and reading to our (very attentive) collie! I am currently querying publishers. Any leads would be most appreciated! Jennifer
My dog, Winston, and I are in the process of qualifying for a similar program here in the Puget Sound area of Washington state called Reading with Rover. We’ve passed our first test and now have some volunteer hours to log before we can be a full-fledged team. But so far, it’s been a great experience. And I think it is only appropriate that the dog who owns a children’s book writer is a Reading with Rover dog!
What type of qualifying process do you go through and how could I find out if there is something like that offered here in SC?
Houghton-Miffllin published Sara Swan Miller’s THREE STORIES YOU CAN READ TO YOUR DOG, THREE STORIES YOU CAN READ TO YOUR CAT, THREE MORE STORIES YOU CAN READ TO YOUR DOG, and THREE MORE STORIES YOU CAN READ TO YOUR CAT, the first in 1995. All are still in print and deserve a mention here.
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I noticed the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, VT has an ongoing program where kids can read to therapy dogs. I wanted to bring my daughter during a recent visit to town, but she was nervous that her reading skills wouldn’t be strong enough… as if she would offend the dogs! Oh well, next time.
My library has a similar program. I think it is something that is useful in a school setting or a program where kids are encouraged to attend on an ongoing basis. We typically get different kids every time (we have dogs come twice a month), so it is a fun novelty thing, but I don’t know how much it actually helps the individual readers.
One thing we’ve realized is exactly how many people have therapy dogs that they want to bring to the library. After we started the program, we’ve been flooded with requests to come in from dog owners with therapy dogs. We haven’t been able to generate enough interest to accomodate them all. This is something other area libraries have experienced as well– there is lots of interest at first, but it quickly dwindles.
The Los Alamos Caring Canine Companions has had a reading-to-dogs program in place for many years.
My Belgian Sheepdog, Ike, loved being with the kids. One second grader read to Ike and was supposed to go back to the classroom when he finished, but he told the librarian that he hadn’t read to a dog yet. He read a story to Dusty, then started down the hall. The librarian asked where he was going, and he said, “I haven’t read to a dog yet. I need to go to the counselor’s office to read to Goldie.” Naturally the librarian let him think he was pulling a fast one on her.
When the participants horsed around in class, the teacher told them, “If you don’t settle down, you can’t read.” Instant quiet!
Testing showed that participating in the program improved the kids’ reading levels by a grade.
Something to consider. Some kids are afraid of dogs, like my five year old. Some are allergic. (I was and still am.) This isn’t a program for everyone, no matter the benefits. It would have to be voluntary to work.
Reading with dogs is always optional. However, my experience is that students do whatever they can to be chosen for the program. One teacher told me serveral years ago chat she had never seen her most challenging students as calm as when they were reading to the dog.
My dog, Nigel, is an extremely good listener. Readers often ask why he is sleeping and I reply that he his “enjoying every word and does that best with his eyes closed.” Check out my blog, warlkids.blogspot.com for lists of books
I tried this at my bookstore last year. I partnered with a local organization, Paws with a Purpose, that sends therapy dogs and their handlers into hospitals, nursing homes, etc., as well as into some of the local schools for just this type of reading program.
The event was successful in that it drew a lot of interest and attendance–good publicity for our store and for the organization. As far as the actual experience of reading for the kids, however, here are my thoughts:
It’s one thing to curl up in a quiet corner and read to an animal. It’s quite another to try to do this while your parents are pointing and commenting and taking pictures of you. (Yes, this happened to every single kid at our event.)
It is true that people who have trained therapy dogs will be very excited about doing something like this. At someone at the organization explained to me, the more opportunities the dogs get to practice their companion role, the better. but one thing to look out for is the Proud Mama/Papa syndrome, though–the handlers who take up half the kid’s reading time showing off their pooch! Also consider, will the handlers have to be right there with the dog? If so, the kids have an adult they don’t know next to them and listening.
I hope this doesn’t sound discouraging. I am thinking about trying this again, and I could see it turning into a nice thing to do on a regular basis. (Around here, not every school gets visits from the reading dogs, so I see it as a way to make it available to more kids.) But I would learn from my first experience and try to make it a productive activity for the kids rather than just a photo opp! Good luck… I’m sure you guys could have fun with this. “My Father the Dog” might be a good book to start everyone off with. 😉
My library has been offering this for years and years and it’s popular. We started with my elderly bulldog who had the tendency to fart loudly and often, which caused gales of giggles from the kids. When poor old Nigel got too old to participate any more, we segued into using certified therapy dogs (who don’t fart as often, thankfully). Kids love it and we have good participation. Children who are initially nervous about dogs do learn to relax and enjoy stroking them in a non-threatening environment.
We give complimentary copies of our Planet Of The Dogs series to librarians, teachers and individual therapy reading dog owners…kids love reading dog stories to dogs…our involvement began with Pages For Preston (Preston is a dog), a program developed by teacher Julie Hauck in Sheboygan, WI…we report monthly on therapy reading dog programs on our Barking Planet blog…