Reading Goes To The Dogs

A growing number of libraries and schools are inviting volunteers to bring their dogs in to help children learn, notes  Susan Svrluga in the Washington Post. The hope is that the pets will calm children who are struggling, excite those who are bored and help kids equate reading with fun:

“At the Charles E. Beatley Jr. Central Library in Alexandria, Virginia, on a recent night, there was a waiting list for ‘Paws to Read,’ with children clutching books outside the room hoping to get a turn.

Some had learning disabilities, and their parents wanted them to practice in a nonjudgmental place. Some were learning English and liked reading without having their pronunciation corrected with every word. Some were shy about speaking up in class. And some love reading and had been looking forward all week to reading to the dogs.

‘They have so much fun,’ librarian Ginny Rawls said. ‘The kids just light up. It’s really a wonderful program. I can’t say enough good things about it.’

There must be some downsides. ‘Well,’ Rawls paused to consider. ‘Shedding?’

It took a while for Cynthia Power — a teacher at Ashlawn Elementary School in Arlington County and a volunteer with People Animals Love, or PAL, a D.C. nonprofit group that brings well-mannered, friendly dogs to nursing homes and other places — to get programs started in libraries.

She explained the idea at various branches a few years ago and even left business cards from her small, fluffy dog, Humphrey. ‘But no bites,’ she said.

She has heard from skeptics: ‘ “This is all we need — people teaching their children to read by reading to a dog.”‘ But it’s not about teaching at all, she said.

‘Children never get a chance to read without someone telling them they mispronounced a word or skipped part of the story,’ Power said. ‘We don’t give children that chance to just enjoy reading.’

Marcia Invernizzi, a reading-education professor at the University of Virginia, said reading to dogs won’t, by itself, make a child a better reader. But she liked the idea of motivating children, and she noted several potential benefits. Not least, reading aloud is crucial for beginning readers, she said, because children sound out letters and recognize words when they hear them. The more teachers and parents find ways for them to enjoy doing that, the better.” (Read more here.)

I love this idea. And I wonder if we grown-ups could take a cue from the dogs and learn to be less judgmental and quick to correct.

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