By Lisa Jones, Director of Print Marketing
The mission of Project R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs), a program of Mid-South Therapy Dogs, is to improve children’s reading and communication skills by introducing something completely unexpected: reading to a dog – but not just any dog. R.E.A.D. dogs are trained, tested, registered therapy animals who volunteer with their owner/handlers as a team, going to partner schools as reading companions for children.
This year, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School has two R.E.A.D. therapy teams working with students in our second and third grade PLUS Program for children with learning differences. The therapy teams visit the classrooms on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Students select a book at their reading level and read it to their therapy dog and handler. They talk about the meanings of unfamiliar words, events that happened in the story and then the student takes an Accelerated Reader test.
Literacy specialists acknowledge that children who are below grade level in reading skills are often intimidated by reading aloud in a group, often have lower self-esteem, and view reading as a chore. When a R.E.A.D. dog is listening, the environment is transformed, a child’s dread is replaced by eager anticipation, and learning occurs. The handler is a skilled facilitator who shifts performance pressure off the child and provides support, while the child gets the supervised reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase understanding of the material, and gain fluency as a reader.
This is the third year that St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School has teamed up with Mid-South Therapy Dogs. Here are some comments that our students shared about their R.E.A.D. dogs:
“He (Jax) never interrupts us to ask questions or correct our reading.” – Jillian B.
“He (Jax) comforts me.” – Maria S.
“Reading to Jax makes me happy!” – Kylie P.
“When you read alone, it’s not that much fun because he is so cute!” – Skyler P.
“Because Tag puts his paw on his favorite page or just sniffs.” – Caroline F.
“Because you get to sit down and pet Tag, and it makes me feel happy!” – Ethan H.