What a Great Combination!
A library may not be a place you would expect to find dogs, but at the Mission branch of the Okanagan Regional Library, children reading to dogs, is a regular occurrence. Since 2013, the Mission branch library, has been fortunate to offer PAWS to Read, an individual reading program for children with volunteers and therapy dogs certified through St. John Ambulance.
The goal of PAWS to Read at the Mission library is a simple one – to foster the love of reading in children.
The use of therapy dogs in reading programs, both in libraries and in schools is gaining popularity. Research has shown that reading to dog programs not only help improve reading skills but also benefits in areas of social and emotional development. It’s a fun and novel way for children to gain confidence in their reading.
For all children including, emergent or struggling readers, reading sessions with a dog provides a nonjudgmental, motivating, relaxed environment in which to read aloud. This practise is essential to improved literacy.
Dogs may not be able to read, but they make great listeners. Reading a story to an attentive calm dog can also be a bonding experience and often the kids want to come back to read, again and again.
The program is set up so that children have an individual reading session of twenty minutes. In that time, they greet the dog, pick out a book, settle in and read! The session ends with a visit, a treat for the dog and a walk about the library.
We see many benefits in our young readers. When children come into the library and interact with a PAWS dog, smiles break out and the kids’ faces light up! When children are offered a chance to read to a PAWS dog, they rarely decline. Once they see the dogs wagging tail, even children who may not be comfortable with dogs, come over to meet, say hello and read.
Often children anticipate their visit by bringing a book from home, which they think the dog will enjoy. Tiana, an emergent reader, would practise her book at home for her reading session. Over the course of the summer, this four year old learned to read! Parents often tell us that their kids have begun to read at home to the family pet. That anticipation, excitement and willingness to read, is what it’s all about.
Of course, the program could not be offered without the time and commitment of the many volunteers who have participated over the years.
One such team is Diane Wittwer and her dog Onyx, a lovable schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle) who have not only logged hundreds of hours in senior homes, but have also been with PAWS to Read since the beginning. Onyx loves coming to the library, greeting everyone with an enthusiasm that is infectious. Diane finds it equally rewarding reading with and getting to know the kids.
Volunteer Maureen Watt, believes that dogs are innately gifted in reading human body language, providing comfort and empathy. She emphasizes that this is not reserved for only therapy animals, but exists in our own family pets. Seeing her golden retriever, Dash interact with children and adults, it is clear that there is an instant bond. Dash and Maureen have a long resume including assistance with emergency personnel during recent wildfires.
We hope to continue to offer the program with the help of these two teams and past team alumni.
If you would like to learn more or register for upcoming programs, please contact the Mission branch at 250-764-2254 or visit our website at www.orl.bc.ca.