Salt Lake City, UT – Many of us have been seen it – a young child struggling to read becomes even more embarrassed as classmates laugh and snicker at his mistakes. Situations such as this can cause children to back away from reading for years to come, and set them on a course of poor academic performance for much of their school years.
Since 1999, teachers and therapists have believed that dogs hold a key to helping these kids. Allowing them to read to a dog who patiently “listens” to them without reacting to their stumbles sets the child at ease and allows them to room to work through their struggles. “Kids have to practice, practice, practice to be good readers,” said Francine Alexander, the chief academic officer at Scholastic, the children’s book publisher. “And yet when you’re practicing, if you make a mistake, it can feel risky and uncomfortable. But if you’re practicing with a dog, you don’t mind making the mistake.”
Research conducted by the University of California, Davis in 2010 has found concrete evidence that children who are able to read with a canine companion actually improved their reading ability 12% over a group that did not use the dogs in a ten-week study.
One such group who was an early innovator in these pairing programs was Intermountain Therapy Animals in Salt Lake City, Utah, who established Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) in 1999 and now has spread the program into nearly every state in the US, as well as Canada and the UK, with workshops available to kids. Many area libraries are also adopting their own R.E.A.D.-style programs as well, so residents should contact their local library for details about available programs.
There are variations of these programs as well, such as New York’s Bideawee pet adoption service which brings dogs to see children living in shelters for homeless families. The added stress of displacement can cause these children to do more poorly in school than other students, so these dogs are an important key to helping these children stay on track with basic academics. They provide a needed lift, and in many ways, a glimmer of hope to a better life.