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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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1 Comment

  1. 1 Linda Serrano 25 Nov

    I can certainly attest to the success of this kind of program!  For the last ten years or so, I've facilitated "Books N Barks" at the elementary school where I work as a reading specialist.  The first Grade students in my Reading Support Program read to reading therapy dogs from a local volunteer organization (Paws With Patience) once a month, using books they have borrowed from my home-lending library.  The books are leveled (according to guided-reading framework, Fountas & Pinnell), and we started out with a small non-fiction collection geared towards dogs- from some excellent authors out there who've published books about their own pets, using simple sentence structure and photographs- the kids get to really know those "characters!" It's now extended to, giraffes, and dinosaurs!  I also build on the enthusiasm for this program within our regular sessions, using picture books that involve dogs and reading, responses to texts, phonics lessons, etc.  But by far the biggest draw is the dogs- and from their first meeting, some three weeks into the RS program, the children view themselves, as they had not before, as confident and capable readers!  They are motivated to practice rereading the texts at home, they "read like a grown-up," showing the pictures to the dogs, asking questions, conversing with their human partners, and geeting the immense positive, visceral feedback that comes with being able to relax, pet, and read to a gentle furry friend!  What's even more fascinating and wonderful is that most of our dogs are rescue dogs- and are larger breeds that could be intimidating in other settings- german shephards, rottweilers= as well as labs and greyhounds.  so the children are learning about animal rescue, responsiblity, and so much more.  If I could convince the powers that be to allow me to have a dog in every day, I'd be right on that- it's a no-brainer for the benefits!

    I thank you for sharing this article, as I'm asked a lot "what's the research behind this idea"- and the more we can get the word out as to how children respond and grow with this "intervention," the more the quaitative research results will speak for themselves!

    Linda (and Sparky) Serrano

    fantasy fiction and other animals, from pigs and cats to lions

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