Reading is easily taken for granted. Most adults, young and old, do it every day without a second thought. Those at Lopez library, however, have not forgotten what it is like to be a shy reader.
The R.E.A.D (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program has now finished its fourth summer of helping young people to better their reading.
Each child schedules a 15 minute session at the library with a dog and its handler. “We encourage kids to bring a favorite book or a book they are working on,” says library Executive Director Lou Pray. Then the children are paired with a dog and are free to read to the animal in a comfortable, safe environment.
The dogs are registered, tested and insured therapy animals.
“This means they have been screened for skills and temperament, health and cleanliness, good manners and attitude. They are animals who people can’t resist approaching; they inspire confidence and trust in the people around them. They are calm and reliable, obedient, and impeccably groomed to be attractive and fun to touch and stroke,” says Pray.
Pray says that “The purpose of the R.E.A.D (Reading Education Assistance Dogs)…is to build and encourage children’s love of books and the reading environment, and [to provide] an opportunity for them to practice the full range of communication skills. Research indicates that positive experiences like this will help lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning, and a higher quality life.”
She adds that the presence of the assistance dogs, with whom the children read, is a life enhancing experience that teaches children about the importance of the human-animal bond.
The children of Chris and Chom Greacen, Ty 8 and Sara 6, participated for the first time this summer. Both say they enjoyed themselves and, from the parents point of view, Chris says he thought it was both successful and cute.
The image of the child reading to a dog is not only charming, but is proven to be effective.
According to Pray, there is science behind the program. “The child is usually petting and stroking the dog while he is reading, which induces relaxation and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. And before you know it, the child forgets how hard he thinks reading is.”
Pray also lists various other benefits as: drawing attention outward, turning off anxiety, anger and depression, creating safety and intimacy, increasing positive expectations of both self and others.
The fact that the child feels that the dog is the primary audience takes the pressure of perfection of the child and allows for reading progress to be made unhampered by self-consciouness. “The dog makes a wonderful vehicle for communication. The handler can speak for and about the dog to make many valid points about pronunciation and comprehension. The handler can say, for instance, “Rover has never heard that word before, Nigel-can you tell him what it means?” The possibilities are endless, and the child feels less embarrassed than when he is put on the spot,” says Pray.
The library says that if there is demand for R.E.A.D. to return next summer, they will organize it. “In libraries, we measure it by the kids’ enthusiasm and attendance. If they love it, we’ll keep scheduling it like any successful special event,” says Pray. If you would like R.E.A.D to return, email the library at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just stop in to the library to comment.