Paws to Help Reading in School

by NYC Firm Schools on November 25, 2009

Parents of children in the R.E.A.D program in NYC Schools and others throughout the country cannot stop raving about the change in their kids. One mother said:

Abby didn’t like to read, but reading out loud was the equivalent to punishment for her. Every word was a struggle, every paragraph an argument, and we were so upset. Reading is a fundamental skill that brings the world’s knowledge to your fingertips! When Abby started in the R.E.A.D program, we never realized that the one doing the listening could change the reader themselves.

The R.E.A.D. program is a nationwide program. Its letters stand for Reading Education Assistance Dogs and it is changing the lives of many children. The story of Bailey, one of the R.E.A.D dogs, was profiled on CNN.

The philosophy is simple. Children who are just learning to read often feel judged or intimidated by classmates and adults. But reading to a dog isn’t so scary. It won’t judge, it won’t get impatient, it won’t laugh or correct if the child makes a mistake. In a nutshell, dogs are simply excellent listeners. And for shy kids or slow readers, that can make all the difference.

Many people already know the kind of calm satisfaction felt when interacting with an animal, and for children to have access to such a program at school makes them feel special instead of singled out for extra help.

It’s hard to measure scientifically the success of the program and others like it. Because they’re volunteer-based, and because each state uses different methods to measure reading level, doing a nationwide study would be difficult. However, Klotz says it’s possible to see results in individual schools by comparing the reading improvement of kids who participate in the program with kids who don’t. She says it’s typical for the kids who read to dogs for just 20 minutes a week to improve their reading skills by a couple of grade levels in one school year. She’s even seen as much improvement as four grade levels in a year. And Klotz thinks that reading comprehension is just the beginning of how these dogs help kids.
“It’s not just reading scores,” she says. “They start to speak up in class, and volunteer, and finish homework. They don’t want to miss school when they’re going to read to the dog, so it improves attendance. It kind of just flows over onto everything.”

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