Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dogs Earn Their Keep: Working To Help Young Readers

Dogs help a young reader with a book
in Hendersonville, North Carolina.  
Dogs are fun, of course, but sometimes we want them to earn their keep. And they want to do the same.

So we're always looking for employment opportunities for them. One good idea I've been seeing is therapy dogs are helping kids who are having trouble reading make progress in that department.

Think about it. Part of the problem with getting kids who are struggling to read is we make them try in front of people - classmates, teachers, parents, friends.

That makes struggling readers nervous. What if the audience laughs? Judges them? The nervousness this causes all but guarantees the kid trying to read won't do as well as if he or she were in calmer surroundings.

Enter therapy dogs.

Libraries like The Fletcher Library in Hendersonville, North Carolina have hired therapy dogs to help young readers hone their skills.

Says the Associated Press:

"Enter Springer, a 7-year old spitz mix who has worked at hospitals, colleges and high schools as a certified therapy dog, offering calming reassurance for students who are anxious about testing or medical procedures.

"When owner Rachelle Sher offered Springer's services to Fletcher's branch last October, Library Assistant Elizabeth Koontz jumped at the opportunity. Klontz knew that therapy dos help reluctant readers by providing a non-judgemental audience, as well as soothing stressed adults."

The kids read to dogs like Springer, who would never criticized a mispronounced word or a grammar error. They just sit there as a loving, eager audience, hanging on every word, mangled or not.

One eight year old named John Paul Torres read "Why Do Tigers Have Stripes" to Springer, who listened with rapt attention.

Again, from the AP via

"'I don't know, he's just a really fun dog to read to,' Torres said when asked about Springer's best qualities. 'Like, when I first saw his poster, I never thought that dogs could understand that much. And then when I started reading to him, that just surprised me.'"

The dogs help people who aren't young readers, too, said the library's branch manager, Cindy Fisher. "Adults who are trying to get jobs and they're using our computers to fill out resumes, they're so stressed out that it's just a nice change of pace for them," according to the AP article.

This idea of having dogs come in to libraries to help kids read is apparently spreading to lots of other libraries, which is a great trend.

It seems dogs do help you focus. Yes, the two that live with us, Jackson and Tonks, sometimes distract me when I'm working from home as they demand (nicely!) to go outside or play.

But just as often, while I'm typing away at my laptop, Jackson and Tonks will be curled up on the floor right near me, sometimes with Tonks resting her nose on my foot, and Jackson lying down on the floor next to my chair, his tail wagging when I turn to look at him.

This scene somehow focuses me, puts me in a better mood, and I find I'm getting work done, in part because they are there.

So yes, let's bring more dogs into libraries, and other work and learning places. At least the ones that aren't dangerous to dogs with wagging tails, or places that dogs might create dangers to them or humans.

When you treat them right, it seems dogs become very loyal, effective employees.


Therapy dogs are motivating kids who have trouble reading to hit the books.
The Fletcher Library in Hendersonville, North Carolina, is home to a program which allows kids to read to therapy dogs, according to the Associated Press. Every week, a child can schedule an appointment at the library to read to one of the pups from Therapy Dogs International. The initiative provides a safe space where children who have difficulty reading or those with learning disabilities or anxiety disorders can exercise their reading skills.
"They bring this calmness and this peace to the children," Michelle Sheppard, whose 8-year-old daughter, Adriana, participates in the program, told the Associated Press. "It’s just amazing. Just a short amount of time has such an impact in those moments that they share."
The program began last October when Rachelle Sher offered her therapy dog's services to the library. The library assistant, Elizabeth Klontz, implemented the program in hopes it would get children who struggle with reading to gain confidence in their abilities.
Therapy Dogs International explains that many children who have difficulty reading may be afraid of the judgment they receive while practicing the skill. But a reading program involving a dog as a listener has the potential to change that. 
"They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates," the organization's website notes. "By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog and focuses on the reading."
Since the initiative's introduction at Fletcher Library, many of the the young readers say they feel comfortable and driven with their reading pal. The Associated Press reported that Adriana missed so much last year due to chronic migraines, that her mom decided to start home-schooling her. The child said she enjoys reading to therapy pup Springer, who's a patient listener. 
"Being with him, it’s like reading to a friend," the 8-year-old told the Associated Press. 
Similar programs have proven successful elsewhere. 
The Reading Paws program, for example, pairs elementary school children with a therapy dog in an effort to help them improve their literacy skills. 
"I thought reading was the hardest thing in the world," Jordan Piper, a Reading Paws participant said back in 2012 of his experience prior to starting the program. "[The therapy dog] helped me sound out hard words and motivated me. He never barked."
Another program Paws to Read in Alexandria, Virginia, offers children with learning disabilities or children who are learning English, the opportunity to practice reading to dogs in a judgment-free environment. The children told the Washington Post in 2012 that they don't feel self-conscious around them. 
"If you're reading aloud in school to a whole class, you might be nervous," Sean Sullivan, a then-8-year-old told the Washington Post. "But the dogs are really here to listen."

No comments:

Post a Comment