Paws Pairs 4-Legged Listeners, Young Readers

posted July 15th, 2011 by
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by John Fancher, Tulsa City-County Library

In addition to being best friends, dogs are kids’ best listeners.
In a program to boost reading levels of children ages 7-12, Tulsa City-County Library started PAWS for Reading storytimes in 2005.
Modeled on the national Reading Educations Assistance Dogs (READ) program, storytimes at the libraries bring together registered therapy dogs with young readers as they practice reading aloud.
The goal is to improve literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy dogs and their handlers.
After the story sessions, the Tulsa Library Trust provides each reader with a book to take home and create their own home library.
Siblings Olivia and Allen Brock are regular PAWS for Reading participants. Their Great Aunt Jane Waters brings them to the Herman and Kate Kaiser Library to select books for the week.
Olivia and Allen signed up for the storytimes nearly three years ago and continue because they enjoy their time reading aloud to the dogs.
“I have dyslexia, so my reading improves each time I read to dogs,” explains Olivia.
“I like reading them the ‘Magic Tree House’ series or the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books.” Brother Allen notes, “I like that I can learn and get better at spelling when I read out loud.
And the dogs really like to listen.
But one time I was reading and he fell asleep on my lap!” A pack of 25 doggy volunteers take turns as listeners at 14 TCCL locations.
Olivia and Allen recently read to Barkley, an 8-year-old terrier/poodle mix. His owner, Cat Ingram, and her daughter, rescued him from the Tulsa Animal Shelter when he was a puppy.
Barkley attended the dog obedience school at Tulsa Dog Training Club and received his Canine Good Citizen badge.
“He has always loved lying across my books and magazines so I knew he’d enjoy kids reading to him, too,” says Ingram.
“Today, we noticed that both Allen and Olivia had improved their reading skill since our last visit in the winter and that made it all worthwhile for us.
” What began as a pilot program at three libraries has blossomed into a successful, ongoing program.
“A child who is having trouble reading will benefit greatly from these storytimes,” explains Gretchen Hannefield, Friends and Volunteer coordinator.
“The registered therapy dogs are perfect nonjudgmental listeners. Readers feel no pressure as they improve their reading skills.
When they are unable to pronounce a word, the dog’s handler is there to help sound out the word.”

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