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Teaching Tips: Bringing Children, Dogs, and Books Together

by Kathleen Hunter, MS
May 8, 2012
As an adult reader, I am allowed the luxury of reading at my own leisure. There is no one monitoring my progress or checking my fluency. There is no one to make corrections to my pronunciations or miscues, or interrupt my reading by asking me questions, especially when I’m immersed in the best part of the book.

Most kids, especially those in the first few years of learning how to read, are not allowed these reading pleasures. We as educators and parents hover over their little shoulders ever-ready to make corrections. We have our own goals to reach that are dependent on these young readers to excel. But what many children need most is a stress-free, friendly, and safe learning environment with a non-judgmental friend—“man’s best friend”, a dog.

Welcome to Reading with Rover.

Reading with Rover is a community-based literacy program that reaches out to young struggling readers all across the Northwest. The program trains dogs and their owners to become Reading with Rover D.R.E.A.M. Dog teams. After they have completed all of the training requirements, they are allowed to visit schools, bookstores, and libraries to listen to young boys and girls read books to them.

The young readers are not judged on their reading level or skill. Instead, they are given the freedom to simply enjoy books of their choosing and at their comfort level with their new friend. The dogs are calm, responsive, and ever so attentive to the child and their chosen books!

For younger siblings, there is a Coloring Corner where they can sit and color puppy pages with an adult supervisor. They are in the same space as the Reading with Rover dogs and their owners so they receive some of the same benefits, but at a short distance.

Reading with Rover in the Classroom

The beauty about Reading with Rover is that it is not only for young readers just learning how to read. I had an opportunity to visit a designated Reading with Rover location in Redmond, Washington. I spoke with a second grade teacher who has a group of four to seven Reading with Rover dogs and their owners that visit his classroom each week. The teacher said he also invites the older students from the EBD (Emotional Behavioral Disorder) classroom to join this group of readers. He shared with me how the interactions between the younger students, the dogs, and the older students benefit everyone. They all enjoy learning and especially learning how to read together. The younger students like having an older buddy to read with them and their dog. The EBD students are calm, open to learning, and act as mentors to the younger students. Everyone is at a different stage in their reading ability but at the same stage of reading enjoyment!

This is a quilt that was made by the second grade students. The quilt was auctioned off at a school fundraiser. Unbeknownst to Mr. Daly, his parents were the winning bidders! They in turn gave the quilt back to his classroom.



Community Service

At the same location in Redmond I also met Gaby and her dog Ruby.

Gaby is a high school senior who chose Reading with Rover as her community service senior project. Gaby and Ruby were acting as a Greeter Dog team. Their job was to greet the children and their parents as they joined other Reading with Rover dogs and their owners who had completed their required training. Acting as a Greeter Dog team is one of the requirements before becoming a full-fledged Reading with Rover D.R.E.A.M. Dog Team. Soon, Gaby and Ruby will be able to read with children in the main reading room.

Reading with Rover provides a wonderful opportunity to capture the interest of teens and young adults and the importance of literacy and becoming life-long readers.

Reading with Rover in Your Neighborhood

If you are interested in learning more about Reading with Rover and all the fabulous benefits for children, dogs, and adults, I suggest you begin by visiting their website at http://www.readingwithrover.org.

Live outside the Pacific Northwest? There are similar animal-assisted literacy programs in operation all over the globe! Try entering “reading to dogs program” and your geographic location into your favorite search engine to see what’s available near you.

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at www.KathleenHunterWrites.com.

© 2012 Kathleen Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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