Books putting kids and pets on the same page

Western Times - - FINDA TRADIE - READ ON: The more chil­dren read, the bet­ter they be­come. Gill John­son

IS­SUES around chil­dren learn­ing to read are rarely out of the news. Which is hardly sur­pris­ing – be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful reader is of para­mount im­por­tance in im­prov­ing a child’s life chances. Nor is it sur­pris­ing that read­ing cre­ates a vir­tu­ous cir­cle: the more you read the bet­ter you be­come. But what may come as a sur­prise is that read­ing to dogs is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity as a way of ad­dress­ing con­cerns about chil­dren’s read­ing.

There is a lot of re­search ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that chil­dren who read ex­ten­sively have greater aca­demic suc­cess.

Many chil­dren nat­u­rally en­joy read­ing and need lit­tle en­cour­age­ment, but if they are strug­gling their con­fi­dence can quickly di­min­ish – and with it their mo­ti­va­tion.

So how can dogs help?

Ther­a­peu­tic pres­ence

Read­ing to dogs is just that – en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren to read along­side a dog. The prac­tice orig­i­nated in the US in 1999 with the Read­ing Ed­u­ca­tion As­sis­tance Dogs scheme and ini­tia­tives of this type now ex­tend to a num­ber of coun­tries. In the UK, for ex­am­ple, the Bark and Read scheme sup­ported by the Ken­nel Club is meet­ing with con­sid­er­able en­thu­si­asm.

The pres­ence of dogs has a calm­ing ef­fect on many peo­ple – hence their use in Pets as Ther­apy schemes. Many pri­mary schools are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pres­surised en­vi­ron­ments and chil­dren (like adults) gen­er­ally do not re­spond well to such pres­sure. A dog cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment that im­me­di­ately feels more re­laxed and wel­com­ing. Read­ing can be a soli­tary ac­tiv­ity, but can also be a plea­sur­able, shared so­cial event.

Chil­dren who are strug­gling to read need to build con­fi­dence and re­dis­cover a mo­ti­va­tion for read­ing. A dog is a re­as­sur­ing, un­crit­i­cal au­di­ence who will not mind if mis­takes are made. Chil­dren can read to the dog, un­in­ter­rupted; com­ments will not be made. Er­rors can be ad­dressed in other con­texts at other times. For more ex­pe­ri­enced or ca­pa­ble read­ers, they can ex­per­i­ment with in­to­na­tion and “voices”, know­ing that the dog will re­spond pos­i­tively.

Read­ing to a dog can create a help­ful bal­ance, sup­port­ing lit­er­acy ac­tiv­i­ties which may seem less ap­peal­ing to a child. Chil­dren with dys­lexia, for ex­am­ple, need fo­cused sup­port to de­velop their un­der­stand­ing of the al­pha­betic code (how speech sounds cor­re­spond to spelling choices). But this needs to be bal­anced with ac­tiv­i­ties which sup­port in­de­pen­dent read­ing and so­cial en­joy­ment.

Gill John­son is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in ed­u­ca­tion at Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham. This ar­ti­cle is orig­i­nally from and cour­tesy of The Con­ver­sa­tion.

❝ Read­ing to dogs is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity.

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

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