Kids Who Have a Ruff Time Reading Find Attentive Listeners in Dogs
How’s this for putting the fun in fundamental? Programs that pair kids who need help reading with dogs that have an ear to lend are gaining momentum around the country.
Growing up is tough. Between soccer practice, dealing with your younger sibling and hoping your crush likes you back, you also need to focus on school… which can be a drag. Some kids have a tougher time with subjects such as reading, and there’s a real danger of falling far behind peers if not caught early enough.
In order to help kids who struggle with reading, many schools have tried different approaches. When traditional approaches don’t work, it’s time to try something out of the ordinary. One such method is having kids read out loud to dogs who love to hear a good “tail!”
Several institutions in the United States have implemented the use of dogs in their curriculum in order to help kids improve their reading skills. The Bow Wow Reading Dogs program developed by the Austin Dog Alliance is just one of them. Their program is broken down into four categories, each helping a different child or young adult with their schoolwork by allowing them to read out loud to their therapy dogs.
The benefits are monumental. One of their programs helps local elementary school kids. At this level, a volunteer and therapy dog come into the classroom to help students who are typically at-risk readers. Not only does the child benefit from reading to a dog, but also thrives with the positive attention coming from someone who isn’t a parent or teacher. By reading to these sweet, non-judgmental dogs, students improve their reading skills on their own time. This is especially beneficial to kids who don’t have dogs at home, as they learn to trust dogs. Kids know that dogs aren’t going to judge their reading skills – they’re only there to listen (and maybe give your cheek an occasional lick).
As well, the Bow Wow Reading Dogs has a program for college libraries, where therapy dogs visit college campuses during reading week. Many students find that it helps to relieve stress when studying because, let’s face it, everyone (child and adult alike) melts when they see a tail-waggin’ dog walk into the room.
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Therapy Dogs International (TDI), founded in 1976 in New Jersey, also has a dog reading program called Tail Waggin’ Tutors. They describe the benefits of reading to a dog perfectly: not only does this teach children to become comfortable around dogs (when before they may have feared them), but creating a link between something they love (dogs) and something they dislike (reading). This may give the child a reason to want to read and, in turn, they will improve! I can’t think of a better way to turn a negative into a positive.
Often times, you don’t even need a specially trained therapy dog to reap the benefits of reading. The Humane Society of Missouri has created Shelter Buddies Reading Program, where kids can sit down in front of an adoptable dog’s kennel and read aloud to them. Not only does the child improve their reading skills, but this also has a great impact on the dogs. Rescue dogs who may otherwise have an unpleasant relationship with humans relax and slowly begin to trust again, thanks to a little girl’s voice. High-energy dogs who may be extremely jumpy may also sit or even lie down near the child and become calmer, which may be desirable to someone who is looking to adopt. Furthermore, the $5 donation at the beginning of this program supports the shelter and helps keep these dogs off the street.
When it comes to this story, we’re suckers for a tail with a happy ending!
Photo credit: Humane Society of Missouri; Austin Dog Alliance