Even as teachers are blaming new technology as one of the key reasons it is becoming harder for children to read, a growing number of libraries and elementary schools have turned to dogs for help. Not just any dog, mind you. Biters, barkers, jumpers or growlers are excluded from this select volunteer list.
Just what is it these four-legged assistants do? They simply listen to children read. How is that different from a person listening to a child read?
- It doesn't feel risky or uncomfortable, thereby reducing the fear of making mistakes.
- Dogs don't laugh when mistakes are made.
- Students who are shy about reading to adults or in front of classmates relax when reading to a pet.
- Bored students find it fun to read to dogs.
- Children really enjoy reading because no one is telling them they mispronounced a word or left out part of the story.
- Reading aloud is crucial for beginning readers. Readers are likely to be willing to read aloud longer when reading to a dog.
- It reduces anger, anxiety and depression in students
In 2010, a study by researchers at the University of California confirmed that children who read to dogs really do perform better. Young students who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12% over a 10-week program while students in the same program who did not read to dogs showed no improvement. The same researchers also studied 11 home-schooled youths who read to dogs and improved their reading skills by 30%.
A growing number of libraries and schools across the country are inviting volunteers to bring their dogs in to help children learn. These programs are run under many names but perform the same function: they help calm struggling students, re-engage bored students and help students equate reading with fun. Some of the names are:
- BARKS: Books and Reading for Kids in Suffolk
- Paws to Read
- R.E.A.D.: Reading Education Assistance Dogs
- READing Paws
- Read to the Dogs Program
- Reading with Rover
- Sit, Stay, Read!
In Suffolk, Virginia the program is called BARKS. It meets from 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church Library. Contact Michele Thames at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.