We love to watch middle-graders emerge as fluent readers. No longer focused on decoding and sounding out every syllable, a strong reader basks in the glory of a great story.
But reading doesn’t come easy for everyone– it was a huge struggle for me and look at me now! (Okay you can’t REALLY look at me but I’m a true blue book lover and an author.)
Many non-readers must break through two barriers to become book lovers- Confidence and Practice. But practice… that old try and try again… can lead to frustration instead of success. And confidence? How can emergent readers build that? These days an amazing reading scheme is spreading across the country, one I wish had been around when I was consigned to the Sparrow reading group. Known by various names including RUFF, BARK, Puppy Dog Tales, Reading With Rover and R.E.A.D. it all comes down to reading to a dog!
Cute, right? Reading aloud to a dog takes reading anxiety away… and replaces it with cuddles. Gentle reading dogs can boost a fearful child’s social skills, too, as he or she interacts with a friendly, engaged animal often for the first time.
But these programs are MUCH more than cute. They really work and their effectiveness has been clinically proven. Corrine Serra Smith wrote her doctoral dissertation analyzing a Sit Stay Read program in urban Chicago and found “students in the program group… gaining 8 words per minute more on average, but up to 14 words per minute more in some cases, than students in a comparison group. This represents a 20 percent improvement in the program group over the comparison group in oral reading fluency gain.” A twenty percent fluency improvement- from reading to a dog! This can be life changing, transforming a child who avoids books and stumbles over words to a confident reading expert, ready to take on other classroom challenges and excel in language arts, history and even math lessons. Research has also been conducted at the University of California at Davis where in only ten weeks they found a thirty percent reading fluency improvement among home schooled students. Kids there said “I feel relaxed when I am reading to a dog because I am having fun” and “I felt like I was reading out loud faster and better.”
What sort of dogs can participate? In some communities certified therapy animals who’ve undergone extensive obedience and other training are preferred but other places welcome any calm, well behaved (and clean!) pet. The point is a safe non-judgmental audience.
What sort of kids can participate? Obviously not every person is a dog lover but any child who’s not allergic or exceptionally fearful can benefit from reading to a dog. You need not be a struggling reader to enjoy sharing a story with a man’s best friend. This is definitely an “all join in” activity. School and libraries across the country are inviting dogs to join their reading lessons. The question isn’t whether reading to a dog is a good idea. It’s where’s the program nearest you– or how can you form a new program for your middle-grade readers.
Ready to start? The Reading With Rover site has some great tips for founding your own dog reading program. In the Washington, DC area, where I live, you can contact People Animals Love. They operate a successful pet therapy programs, including reading to dogs, all over the metro DC area. The New York Public Library supports the R.E.A.D. program. Reading to a dog has even gone international with a fantastic program in Staffordshire, England! In fact there are too many independent programs to list. To find an existing program near you I’d recommend you do a Google search with “read to a dog” and the name of your own community.
From the Mixed-Up Files can even help, with a list of our favorite “no dogs die” dog books. What canine companion can resist Because Of Winn-Dixie?
Arf! Arf! What are you waiting for? Hook up that leash, crack open your favorite book, and get reading!
What book would you read to a dog?
Tami Lewis Brown is a big book and dog lover. Her three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels love hearing her read from her works in progress and aspire to be profession reading therapy dogs themselves.