Create Story Time For Children, Pets

FOCUS ON PETS

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Animals help us in endless ways. Researchers and educators are always discovering new ways that the animal-people bond is beneficial, primarily to the humans. New studies show the help that dogs can provide for children learning to read, particularly those with some reading problems.

The first program using dogs to help with reading appeared in Salt Lake City in 1999. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) was started by Intermountain Therapy Animals. According to "The Healing Power of Pets" by Walecia Konrad, in Child Magazine, March 2004, there are more than 25 such programs in existence today in libraries and schools across the country.

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Emily Laliberte, 5, reads her favorite story to Higgins. She knows that he will enjoy the story and will not be critical of her reading ability.

Children are accustomed to corrections and thus, they tend to be hesitant in trying to tackle a story and pronounce new words.

There is no doubt that snuggling next to a dog helps kids relax, and by relaxing, they will be more open to enjoy the stories and the actual act of reading. They instinctively know that their dog will never criticize them.

That is the idea behind these programs that use dogs to help kids learn to read. Young children believe that the dog can understand the story they are reading. Kathy Klotz, executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals says "The role reversal makes the children feel powerful. Now they are helping the dogs to read instead of being the ones who always need the help."

Older children know that the dog does not really understand the story, but it might be the first time that his reading has not been a traumatic experience. No one is correcting him. By relaxing, he finds that he can read better than he imagined. His success leads to more and better reading and helps develop a real enjoyment of books.

This program will work at home with the family dog and a little stage setting and encouragement from adults at the beginning. Providing a quiet space without distractions or TV is essential. Having several books available at different reading levels or encouraging the child to collect a variety of his favorite books puts him in control. A few picture books in the mix, especially at the beginning, will allow the child the freedom to begin talking about the pictures rather than feeling he has to read. Pretend not to listen. But you will love what you hear as the child relaxes and is convinced that the dog is loving the story and is delighted with the improvement in his friend's reading ability. The first sessions may only last five minutes. They will increase with time.

Whether the child is already reading, learning to read or just interpreting the pictures, reading to the family dog is helpful. His imagination will soar as he describes the story to the dog in his own words. He might begin asking the dog questions about the story, just as he is asked during his story time.

It's a great way for young children to bond with the family dog.

All children should be spending some time each day with a book, especially during school vacations.

Encouraging them to sit next to the dog with their book will make it much more fun. If the dog is not accustomed to this kind of attention and behavior, it may take a little time for the dog to settle in, but most dogs will love the opportunity to have a one-on-one experience with a member of the family.

Once the child and dog story time is established, you will find both of them looking forward to future sessions.

According to Konrad, animals quickly pick up on anger and other emotions. At the same time, they can be patient, forgiving and non-judgmental, all qualities that children need to gain confidence. By teaching both reading skills and self confidence, this exercise can provide a great start to success in school and in life.

Children are invited to register up for the Fur-Ever Friends Club at the Payson Humane Society. The program provides experience in working with dogs and cats. Orientation is Monday, June 7. Call 928-474-5590 for information.

Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at cpwrather@earthlink.net or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.

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