Thursday, April 21, 2011

Canines in the Classroom: Reading With Rover

Guest Blogger: Siri Espy, Animal Friends' Communications Team

For a child who finds reading difficult, reading aloud can be a painful and embarrassing experience. Standing in front of the classroom with fears of being made fun of, or fear of pressure or criticism from teachers and peers can lead to a downward spiral. What a child in that situation needs most is unconditional acceptance in a safe setting to practice reading skills without anxiety. What that child needs is a dog.

The nationally-renowned Reading with Rover program is specially designed for kids who need a boost in reading skills. Who could be more accepting and non-judgmental than a dog? And the listener is not just any dog, but one who is temperament tested and selected for its calm, kid-friendly demeanor. There’s nothing like a little tail-wagging encouragement to boost self-esteem and help a child reach the next level.

At Animal Friends, Reading with Rover sessions involve a dog, a child and the dog’s owner. The trio sits on a blanket on the floor of Animal Friends’ classroom, creating their own cozy nest for reading without distractions. Parents are welcome to relax in our library or lobby and enjoy a much-needed break in their day. Often, the books are selected by the child’s teacher, while Animal Friends also has a good selection of canine-related books the dogs seem to especially enjoy.

Volunteers attend a special orientation, then sign up to work with their dogs in the program. Wheatie, a wheaten terrier, is one such dog; he brings his human Dawn Marcus to Animal Friends for Reading with Rover sessions. A patient, calm fellow, Wheatie enjoys being read to while Dawn explains to kids that sometimes Wheatie needs a little help, too. Knowing that he also doesn’t know a difficult word will encourage the child to try again, without embarrassment. Wheatie doesn’t mind.

Reading with Rover participants have the privilege of meeting, and reading to, a variety of furry friends, rotating through canines of different sizes and breeds. Kids respond to the program with improvement in skills and greater enthusiasm for reading, which becomes less a chore and more an adventure. Teachers report their students’ excitement, as the students return to class with pictures of their new friend and glowing reports about the experience.

One young lady tells us of the ultimate Reading with Rover experience: her reading skills improved so much from her involvement in the program that her family adopted a dog from Animal Friends. “I can read to my own dog now,” she reported with excitement. Another family benefited doubly, with a child who boosted his reading ability while overcoming a fear of dogs that resulted from an earlier bite.

For more information about volunteering with Animal Friends' Reading With Rover program, click here!

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