Archive for the ‘Reading with children’ Category

Young children and a dog at the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield look cute together. The children read individually out loud to Shiva, a trained, husky-mix therapy dog, as part of the Afternoon Reading Fun program. But are there real benefits?

The program makes a difference for Carlene Bratach’s 8-year-old son Micah. She told the Camera he was more enthusiastic about reading with Shiva’s help than without it.

Other parents report positive effects on their children. While the dog actually does not understand the stories nor pay attention, those things seem to benefit the children.

“They’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I can read to a dog. The dog doesn’t know if I mess up,'” said Samantha Bloodworth, the dog’s owner and University of Colorado law student.

The fact the dog cannot catch mistakes and correct them could be considered a weakness. While children need time to read without constant correction, they also need help sounding out words to avoid drilling in errors. Bloodworth helps there.

I talked with a musician friend who said feedback from her audience alters her musical performance. I see the same situation when children read. In this way, it’s a shortfall when a child reads to a dog as it cannot show excitement or emotion as the story unfolds. It also cannot ask questions or make comments to add to the sharing together.

When I first read the Camera’s story, the first thing that came into my mind was a TV ad I saw years ago reminding parents to pay attention to their children. In the ad, a little boy walked in the front door at home with his big news to tell. One by one family members told him they were too busy to listen. Finally, he ended up on the front porch where he put his arm around his dog, called it by name and asked, “Can I tell you?”

Therapy dogs supposedly listen though they look completely disinterested. What if adults were to act like the dogs? Surely, the children should wonder why the adults didn’t follow along in the books and help them when they needed it.

Nevertheless, reading with a dog doesn’t have to be an either-or situation. Children can have both and receive both benefits.

Programs where children read to dogs elsewhere in the country tout great successes. Therapy Dogs International, Inc. in New Jersey shares its program’s feedback. Children who are a little fearful or struggling to read become confident and happy often with improved grades.

The Intermountain Therapy Animals centered in Salt Lake City is having similar results with their volunteer teams of trained therapy dog and owner/handlers throughout the country. They say their dogs help children read by helping to create a relaxed, comfortable, safe, empowering and fun environment.

I see no need to discount the benefits to children of reading to Shiva or any other therapy dog. The fact that children love this program and it works for so many is a good enough reason to praise the Broomfield library for including the therapy dog in its program for children.

At the same time, the library is missing out by using a dog where it could be anchoring children to reading by their seeing their parents involved with a reading program in the community. Maybe it can or does do both.

Still, there is something sad about children feeling more comfortable reading to a dog than to a grandma, mother or father, or big brother or big sister. It takes me back to that TV ad I saw years ago. I wouldn’t want people to fail children. But, then, again, I wouldn’t want to have them miss out on the special connection and benefits they can receive from dogs.

Source: Daily Camera Nov. 30, 2008, under “A child’s audience”

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