Developing children’s reading ability is about confidence as much as smarts and having a gentle, non-judgmental audience to read to helps with building that confidence. Dogs do that very well.
Story Dogs is based on the successful American literacy program, Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.), built around the idea of children and young adolescents reading to dogs.
Animals are ideal reading companions because they promote relaxation, do not judge or criticise and allow children to proceed at their own pace. The children's focus improves, their literacy skills increase, they have fun and their confidence soars.
Good Education Group has partnered with Story Dogs by sponsoring a dog team to work with Glenferrie Primary School students.
Megan Morgan, a regional coordinator for Story Dogs, says students love reading to a dog because the dog is a non-critical audience, so they are assured from the start that it is OK to make mistakes.
“We often have students who lack confidence and feel reassured by having a furry friend to talk to,” says Morgan.
“Some of our students have never had regular one-on-one reading time before and they tell us that Story Dogs makes them feel special.”
Dog handlers are there to help build a relationship between the child and the dog. If the child is having difficulty the handler will read for them until they feel comfortable. Story Dog handlers are volunteers and, in most cases, are also the dog’s owner.
Story Dog volunteer, Fiona Rogers, felt her golden retriever, Murphy, had such a gentle, placid disposition that she wanted to share him in a volunteering capacity.
“Being a mother, working in a school and knowing how important it is to be able to read for life made me apply to Story Dogs. I knew Murphy would bring a smile to everyone he came into contact with,” says Rogers.
“Murphy and I love going to Glenferrie Primary each week and helping the students. It’s so rewarding to see the students’ confidence and reading skills grow each week and I can see that Murphy is loving his job too.”
During the session, each student is one-on-one with the dog and the volunteer handler. The student becomes the teacher as they help the dog understand the story, making reading fun and ultimately helping students to become confident lifelong readers. Students are also encouraged to write letters to the dogs between reading sessions, further developing literacy skills.
Glenferrie Primary School has been part of the Story Dogs program for only a few months, however according to program coordinator and teacher, Skye Allen, the school has already seen an improvement in students’ engagement with reading.
“Students spend all week looking forward to their reading session with our dog volunteers, Murphy and Billy, along with their equally beautiful handlers,” says Allen.
This all comes at no surprise for Good Education Group CEO, Chis Lester, who first came across the program when his daughter took part at her school.
“I have seen the results of the Story Dogs program first-hand. Having tried and tested many strategies, Story Dogs was the most effective to encourage my daughter to read,” says Lester.
The Story Dogs program is available to all primary schools and is free to all participating students. Participating students are usually in Year 2, between the ages of seven and eight and are chosen by the school. The organisation receives no government support and relies on school fundraisers, donations and sponsorship.
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