Dogs can take the lead and help children read.
More and more schools are taking dogs seriously and inviting them into schools to support children’s reading.
There are some delightful examples of ‘Reading Dogs’ all over the world and their popularity is catching on.
Reading dogs are great listeners and they allow children to read out loud in order to build up their confidence and reading fluency. The idea of a reading or listening dog started in the United States with a scheme called Reading Education Assistance Dogs (Read).
The idea is that children read in the presence of a dog for around 5-15 minutes. Dogs visit the same schools and so give children the chance to read to them repeatedly rather than just a one-off.
What makes dogs so effective when children read aloud is that they are completely non-judgmental and uncritical, they are affectionate and they have great therapeutic value. They help children to relax and concentrate. A session with a reading dog typically lasts about five minutes, or up to 15 minutes for more advanced readers. The dogs visit the same schools many times, giving kids a chance to enjoy reading to them repeatedly.
The Bark and Read Foundation note,
If children are partnered with a dog to read to, the dog provides comfort, encourages positive social behaviour, enhances self esteem, motivates speech and inspires children to have fun and enjoy the experience of reading.
Reading to a dog gives children a different role and status that they wouldn’t get in front of their peers as Jaki Brien, volunteer for Therapy Dogs Nationwide, says:
Reading to the dog helps them to take on the responsibilities, as well as the pleasures of independence. Perhaps for the first time, these children are the experts as they read. This gives them great confidence; there will be no intervention and no assessment.
It’s important to note that not all dogs are suitable to be reading dogs – some dogs can frighten children so dogs that bark, bite, jump, growl or do anything intimidating are to be avoided. Non-threatening and passive dogs are essential!
Make sure you go through an organisation such as Pets As Therapy and their Read2Dogs or Therapy Dogs Nationwide and their Paws and Read scheme.
Reading to dogs could offer many benefits and every school should have a reading do.
As Johnson (2017) notes,
As with any approach or intervention, it is not a panacea – but set within a language-rich literacy environment, there appears to be little to lose and much to gain.