How reading to animals can help children improve their literacy skills

jason and dog

Reading is a necessary skill for everyone, but sometimes children can feel overwhelmed with doing it and even more afraid of reading out loud. However, reading to animals can make it a lot more fun and enormously less threatening.

There are quite a few programs that offer children this opportunity, such as Paws to Read, Tales to Tails, Bow Wows and Books, and Pawsitive Reading. No matter where you live in the country, you can usually find a program nearby.

One of the larger and more well-known programs is PAWS for Reading, which is one of nine programs run by PAWS for People, an award-winning, all-volunteer nonprofit organization. The therapy animals involved with the program, whether they’re dogs, cats or bunnies, are well trained and loving. Children receive supportive feedback and guidance, as well as stickers and bookmarks, from trained “human” volunteers.

“It’s a lot of fun sitting next to the dogs who often have their tongues hanging out while I’m reading. Plus, it’s something really different to do,” said Jason B., from Dover, DE, who has been taking part in the program for the last four months at his local library.

Many of these programs usually take place in libraries and schools, but sometimes they are done at animal shelters. According to Project Literacy, “The Read to the Animals program has become a great opportunity for students to improve their reading accuracy, speed, comfort, confidence, and ability with a furry animal friend in the audience. Another added benefit of the program is that the animals in the shelter are gaining socialization and companionship throughout the reading sessions.” It’s a win-win situation.

On Readbrightly.com, author Melissa Taylor in her article A Reader’s Best Friend: The Many Benefits of Reading with Animals, cites educational researcher and linguist Stephen Krashen, who says that “a child’s ‘affective filter’, or affective emotions such as low self-esteem and anxiety, can create a mental block that often inhibits learning. Reading to pets removes that mental block and increases the chance for learning to occur.”

While reading to animals, not only do participating children improve their reading skills, but teachers, librarians and volunteers have reported an increase in their confidence, communication skills, self-esteem, social skills and attendance rates. As stated on the PAWS for Reading website, “Nationwide, similar programs have tracked a rise in students’ reading test scores and attitude toward reading.” Special-needs and English-as-a-second language (ESL) students also benefit greatly from these reading programs. There are even programs available for teens and adults.

According to the National Education Association, “Having kids read a lot is one of the crucial components of becoming a good reader. Young readers need to become practiced at recognizing letters and sounds. The only way to get good at it is to practice.”

Reading is not only an important skill set for education, but for everyday enjoyment as well. Getting lost in a good book is something we never outgrow and instilling a love of reading in children is one of the best gifts we can give them.

This is why it is so important for kids to become proficient readers who don’t see reading as a chore or something that they need to do. Instead, children should find pleasure while in the midst of a story and feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a book.

These unique literacy programs, along with parents, teachers, librarians, volunteers and animals, can help accomplish these goals. Reading is learning, regardless of the subject matter. It opens up our minds to a myriad of possibilities and lets us experience a whole new world, if only for a few hours.

Many of us find being with dogs and cats calming to both our minds and bodies. Interacting with animals often leads to lower blood pressure, an improved mood, and a sense of comfort.

While every reading program in slightly different, the animals involved are usually therapy dogs and the volunteers that assist with the programs are generally required to go through a training session themselves. Once you find a program nearby, you can check out the individual requirements.

In her article Books and Bones: The Benefits of Reading to Animals, Cecilia de Cardenas focuses on a program called R.E.A.D, Reading Education Assistance Dogs. “R.E.A.D. dogs are usually mild mannered and patient, calm and well groomed. Other animals have been used in the program as well, from rabbits to guinea pigs to parrots.”

In Virginia, you can currently find these types of programs in Arlington, Alexandria, Hampton, Richmond, Williamsburg, Roanoke, Virginia Beach, New Kent, and other cities in the state. A great resource for locating these programs is http://www.PawsToRead.com. “My website is there to connect people with ‘read to animal’ programs across the country. I write children’s books and know how important it is for children who are struggling with reading problems to have a safe, non-judgmental environment in which to practice their reading skills,” said Lee Wardlaw, the website creator. Not all cities and states are listed, so if you don’t see yours, use the email form to send a message to Wardlaw and she will get back to you with that information.

Increasing your child’s literacy skills while giving him or her a furry companion who will listen without judgment is a true gift all around. And they might get in a good snuggle or two.

Published in Growing Up in the Valley Magazine, VA

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Book review of Shelter in Place

shelter

What started out as a fun-filled day at the mall – watching movies, shopping and grabbing a bite to eat – became a memory that people there would never forget. They heard the term “shelter in place” many times before, but only then did they really understand what that meant. Sometimes hiding meant the different between life and death.

Nora Roberts, a New York Times best-selling author, weaves a tale that unfortunately mirrors real life all too often. Shelter in Place, published in 2018, shows how average people doing everyday things can quickly become victims and sometimes heroes while a nightmare unfolds around them.

Sixteen-year-old Simone Knox, who by a stroke of luck was in the restroom when the first gunman entered the movie theatre where her best friends were sitting, had the presence of mind to call 911. Her actions saved a lot of people that day, and she was heralded as a hero. Inside, however, she felt like a coward for not doing anything to protect her friends that day, even though the operator told her to stay hidden. Once old enough to be on her own, Simone tried to escape the pain by running as far away as she could from her hometown.

Reed Quartermaine was working at his after-school job and was on a break when the second shooter came into the mall. As he ran to hide, he spotted a scared little boy looking for his mom. Scooping him up and hiding him from the bullets saved both of their lives that day. Reed too was hailed as a hero. To deal with his pain, he went on to become a cop so he could try to prevent more crimes against the innocent.

Little did they know there was one person left from that night who was the mastermind behind the terror, and she wasn’t done with her plans yet. One by one Patricia Jane Hobart was coming after the people who survived the carnage, and that included Simone and Reed. Now in a relationship and looking forward to their future, they will once again have to fight for their lives and the lives of those around them.

Shelter in Place is a book about the courage and resilience of everyday people who are forced to confront evil, not once, but twice. Will Simone and Reed escape with their lives once again, or will Patricia succeed the second time around?

To find out more about this book and the author, please visit http://www.noraroberts.com/.

Written for The Woodbridge Magazine in the UK.

A different kind of New Year’s resolution

Resolutions

How many times have you promised yourself you would lose weight in the new year, or maybe stop smoking? And how many times have your New Year’s resolutions been broken by February 1st or even sooner?

Instead of promising to give up or do something to make yourself feel better, how about making a resolution to make others feel better? If you’ve always wanted to volunteer, find a cause that you can embrace and sign up to make a difference. After all, it’s easier to break a promise to yourself than it is to others who are relying on you for basic needs.

If you love animals, volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue group. For those avid readers, what about signing up with Literacy Volunteers of America? Or, if you like crafts, think about spending time at a nursing home teaching residents how to crochet or knit or whatever it is you are talented at? If you’re musically gifted, you can also play some music for the seniors and maybe show them how to play a simple tune or two.

Doing something for others will also make you feel better about yourself. The rewards of volunteering are not just experienced by the recipients, but by the givers as well.

In an article by Hilary Young, titled Why volunteering is so good for your health, it was stated that people who volunteer say it makes them feel healthier, lowered their stress levels, enriched their lives, and improved their mood and self-esteem. Some of them even reported “that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems.” Aren’t these some of the results we’re looking for when making those New Year’s resolutions?

Whatever your interests or talents, there is a cause looking for help. People find it easier to give money, which by all means is sorely needed. But it’s getting out there and joining with other people who have the same goals in mind that makes volunteering more meaningful.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.