Children reading books to dogs

by Darren Jamieson on May 1, 2009

Last month we reported on how Ella Herring was looking for volunteers to read to dogs for the RSPCA. She wanted budding story tellers to help the dogs feel more at home and to get used to human contact. Today another story about people reading to dogs has emerged, only this time it’s the dog who has volunteered.

Sarah Ellis and her two dogs, Saffron and Charlie, are regular visitors to the local primary school in Pembrokeshire. They visit the school so that the children can read to the dogs to improve their reading skills. Sarah and her dogs visit the school as part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs scheme, of which Sarah is the first person to have qualified for in Wales. The scheme is already very popular in the USA.

The idea is that by having the dogs present to read to, the children feel more comfortable with reading out loud. Ms Ellis states:

Dogs can be so therapeutic. They can be therapeutic when you’ve had a bad day at work,” she said.

You go home, give them a cuddle and it’s all better. You can tell them what you like, they don’t repeat it and I think it works for the kids who might have a problem with reading.

I remember from school myself having to stand up and read out loud. This is one to one, sitting in a corner of the library with just me, the dog and the child.

Ms Ellis learned about the scheme, which began in the USA in 1999, and decided that it would be a good idea to run a similar scheme in the UK.

I searched the internet and managed to find the only other UK volunteer at the time and he told me how to go about it.

They send you a course and you have to do that and send it back for marking.

Ms Ellis and her two dogs visit the school every week so that children can read to them. They have become very popular with the children, especially Charlie, who always wears a bandana when he visits the school.

Not just any dog can do the job either, as Ms Ellis explains:

The dogs have to be temperament-assessed so it means they have to already be registered therapy dogs.

The dog has to be very quiet, very docile, very calm, well trained and able to take as much stroking as you’re able to throw at him.

It doesn’t matter if the children make mistakes, it’s purely just reading practice.

Six-year-old Josh is one of the children who reads to Charlie each week:

Once you’ve been with the dogs for a very long time, you start to get to know what they say. They look at you in a special way.

Ms Ellis hopes that other dog owners will also pick up the idea of using dogs as assistants for children in classrooms. There is no pay for the work, but Ms Ellis and her dogs have been sponsored by a pet food manufacturer, which is presumably more than enough reward for the two dogs.

The course did cost me a little bit and I opted to buy the full uniform, the bandanas for the dogs, but to me it’s worth it just to see the look on the children’s faces – that’s all I need.

Would your dog be a good listener if you wanted to read to them?

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