Special dogs help children overcome reading challenges

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Tolland - posted Thu., Jan. 2, 2014
Seven-year-old Lily laughs as R.E.A.D. therapy dog Dolly places her paw on the page of her book.  Licensed R.E.A.D. instructor Julie Bowering (in chair) visits the Tolland Public Library regularly with Dolly to help children improve their reading skills. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Seven-year-old Lily laughs as R.E.A.D. therapy dog Dolly places her paw on the page of her book. Licensed R.E.A.D. instructor Julie Bowering (in chair) visits the Tolland Public Library regularly with Dolly to help children improve their reading skills. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

As if trying to help turn the pages – or maybe pointing out an interesting word – Dolly sometimes placed her big, furry paw on the pages of “Fly High, Fly Guy,” the book 7-year-old Lily held in her lap.

Each time Dolly extended her paw, Lily laughed, and sometimes patted the fluffy golden retriever’s head.

Sitting cross-legged on a blanket covered with images of Dalmatians, Lily read from one of her favorite books to Dolly at the Tolland Public Library on Dec. 27 during a R.E.A.D. session hosted by the library and the Cold Noses, Warm Hearts therapy dog organization. (http://www.coldnosesnwarmhearts.org)

Dolly was accompanied by her owner and trainer, Julie Bowering, who would sometimes offer suggestions when Lily stumbled on a word and encouraged her as she read smoothly through several pages.

Bowering and Dolly have received training in the R.E.A.D. program, which stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. Bowering also previously was employed in the reading program at Birch Grove Primary School in Tolland.

Intermountain Therapy Animals launched R.E.A.D. in 1999 as the first comprehensive literacy program built around the idea of reading to dogs. Today, there are thousands of R.E.A.D. teams visiting schools, libraries and other settings around the country.

R.E.A.D. uses registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament.

Dolly certainly demonstrated she had the right temperament – patient, calm, affectionate. As Lily put it, she likes to read with Dolly because, "it’s fun and she’s a pretty cool dog."

The idea behind the R.E.A.D. program is that children who face reading challenges are often afraid of being judged and don’t enjoy reading aloud in front of their peers or teachers.

Reading to a dog, however, is relaxing, and practicing reading with the therapy dog and trainer helps the child build vocabulary, increase comprehension and read with more fluency.

At the Tolland Library, parents register their child for 20-minute sessions with a R.E.A.D. dog and licensed instructor.

Children usually choose a few books from the library, Bowering said, but she also brings some books of her own in case any of the choices turn out to be a bit too advanced for a child’s reading level. The idea is for children to experience success when reading, she said.

Lily’s parents, who accompanied Lily to her appointment with Dolly, said her reading skills have noticeably improved, and she looks forward to these sessions.

Said her mother, Jennifer Shaw, "Lily is an animal lover… and it’s helping her learn. As often as this is offered, we’ll be here."

According to R.E.A.D., literature, the program has been shown to have several "bonus" benefits, such as improving the child’s self-esteem and confidence, and this often spills over into other subject areas at school and even improves school attendance.

The Tolland Library schedules R.E.A.D. sessions throughout the year, sometimes with as many as four therapy dogs at a time. The next session is scheduled for 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18.

To make an appointment, call children’s librarian Ginny Brousseau at 860-871-3621 or send an email to vbrousseau@tolland.org. If unable to make an appointment, call to cancel so another child has the opportunity to fill that time slot.

To learn more about the Connecticut program, visit http://www.coldnosesnwarmhearts.org or http://www.therapyanimals.org/Connecticut.html.

Official R.E.A.D. training is offered periodically by licensed R.E.A.D. instructor Terri Carpenter in the Coventry area, who can be reached at cnwhterrie3@charter.net or 860-742-8611 and by Denise Bolduc in the Manchester area, who can be reached at dabcrna@cox.net.


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