For many kids, reading is a struggle, but even for a child who enjoys reading, research shows that reading aloud to an audience of any size increases stress and anxiety. It’s the same for adults—many of us cringe at the thought of public speaking.
But in order to learn and improve, kids have to read aloud. So what to do?
Initiatives that have shown promising results in getting kids excited about reading and easing the fear of reading aloud are programs using “reading dogs”: certified therapy dogs with excellent temperaments who “listen” to kids as they read. Research and testimonials from parents and their kids has been extremely positive.
How Reading Dog Programs Work
The approach works by having the reader (the child) speak to someone (the dog) who is non-judgemental and will not interrupt to correct. This means the reader can read at their own pace with the security of knowing that mistakes will not be highlighted.
Additionally, the dog becomes the focus of attention, rather than the reading, taking some pressure off and allowing kids to relax. It’s amazing to see how quickly kids gain confidence from this exercise.
Becoming confident with reading isn’t just about reading: it’s a stepping stone to faster progress in school, a deepend interest in learning, and growing confidence. Spending time with animals has also been proven to decrease stress.
Parents whose kids have participated in reading-dog programs have noted social benefits as well—with better and more frequent social interactions—and have reported that formerly struggling children look forward to the reading sessions and are now excited about the prospect of reading.
Find a Local Reading Therapy Dog Program
There are a few reading therapy initiatives in Toronto and the number is growing. The three programs below are available to schools and libraries.
Non-profit Therapy Tails Ontario has a Tell Tails reading program for children of all ages and abilities and an anti-bullying program using therapy dogs who have suffered some abuse.
Caring Canine Toronto Therapy Dogs runs an assisted reading program in which their “professor dogs” sit with children on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for 20 to 40 minutes. They also have a social skills and empathy program for children.
Paws To Read is a program from non-profit Therapeutic Paws of Canada that matches a child struggling to read with a certified therapy dog.
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