Struggling Students Read To Therapy Dogs, Find Confidence In Judgment-Free Zone

02/18/2015 11:12 am ET | Updated Feb 19, 2015
  • Kimberly Yam Associate Editor, Good News, The Huffington Post

Therapy dogs are motivating kids who have trouble reading to hit the books.

The Fletcher Library in Hendersonville, North Carolina, is home to a program which allows kids to read to therapy dogs, according to the Associated Press. Every week, a child can schedule an appointment at the library to read to one of the pups from Therapy Dogs International. The initiative provides a safe space where children who have difficulty reading or those with learning disabilities or anxiety disorders can exercise their reading skills.

"They bring this calmness and this peace to the children," Michelle Sheppard, whose 8-year-old daughter, Adriana, participates in the program, told the Associated Press. "It’s just amazing. Just a short amount of time has such an impact in those moments that they share."

The program began last October when Rachelle Sher offered her therapy dog's services to the library. The library assistant, Elizabeth Klontz, implemented the program in hopes it would get children who struggle with reading to gain confidence in their abilities.

Therapy Dogs International explains that many children who have difficulty reading may be afraid of the judgment they receive while practicing the skill. But a reading program involving a dog as a listener has the potential to change that.

"They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates," the organization's website notes. "By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog and focuses on the reading."

Since the initiative's introduction at Fletcher Library, many of the the young readers say they feel comfortable and driven with their reading pal. The Associated Press reported that Adriana missed so much last year due to chronic migraines, that her mom decided to start home-schooling her. The child said she enjoys reading to therapy pup Springer, who's a patient listener.

"Being with him, it’s like reading to a friend," the 8-year-old told the Associated Press.

Similar programs have proven successful elsewhere.

The Reading Paws program, for example, pairs elementary school children with a therapy dog in an effort to help them improve their literacy skills.

"I thought reading was the hardest thing in the world," Jordan Piper, a Reading Paws participant said back in 2012 of his experience prior to starting the program. "[The therapy dog] helped me sound out hard words and motivated me. He never barked."

Another program Paws to Read in Alexandria, Virginia, offers children with learning disabilities or children who are learning English, the opportunity to practice reading to dogs in a judgment-free environment. The children told the Washington Post in 2012 that they don't feel self-conscious around them.

"If you're reading aloud in school to a whole class, you might be nervous," Sean Sullivan, a then-8-year-old told the Washington Post. "But the dogs are really here to listen."

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