Thursday, 26 October 2017

Reading dogs

Fifteen or more years ago my late brother-in-law, an inspirational primary school headteacher and adviser, told me about the amazing impact his dog was having on pupils’ reading. Children who struggled with reading, and for whom reading aloud was a humiliating ordeal, happily read to Buddy. Nick saw their confidence, behaviour and skills surge. The key, of course, was that Buddy was friendly and cuddly and non-judgemental (also deaf, though the children didn’t know that).

reading dog - Townhill Community School & Swansea Library ServiceIn those days the concept of a reading dog was pretty revolutionary. Happily that has changed. The value of reading dogs is now widely attested. I was reminded of Nick and Buddy when Carole Billingham, Swansea Children and Youth Librarian, shared this great picture at a course of mine on special educational needs that she attended. Her dog Stella lives up to her starry name when she helps struggling readers in the library and local schools. I loved hearing about Stella’s transformative effect on children’s language and literacy skills, and on their motivation and well-being. The children here are from Townhill Community School.

Please, Sir – sit! The tale of a learning support dog’ quotes research that children who read to listening dogs show an increase in reading levels, word recognition, a higher desire to read and write, and an increase in intra and interpersonal skills.

In ‘How these adorable dogs are helping children love reading’ Jaki Brien, a volunteer for Therapy Dogs, describes what happens in reading sessions with her dog, and how and why they change children’s attitudes and aptitudes.

‘Children urged to read to dogs, perfect listeners’ highlights the therapeutic as well as literacy benefits of reading dogs. ‘Meet the dogs who help children learn to read’ reports children’s emotional intelligence growing alongside their vocabulary.

Wonderful!