Children experience many types of academic challenges which appear at different stages of their learning journey; the ability to read being one of them. Reading is a gateway to help children build their critical thinking skills, stimulate imagination, widen their vocabulary, and strengthen their communication. However, it doesn’t always come easily and this can negatively affect a child’s social skills and self-perception. This is heartbreaking to see in children who may already be feeling low about their abilities, especially when in a classroom setting in front of their peers.
Reading provokes a great amount of anxiety in children especially when they are asked to read aloud to a group of students in the classroom. A number of different factors may contribute to their discomfort, but one thing is sure. For many children, reading out aloud at school or even at home, is an activity they dislike (and some dread).
Numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate the positive benefits to our mental health when we are exposed to pets – either through animal-assisted therapy or simply from having animal companionship at home. For many people, dogs reduce every day stress and anxiety, and promote an overall sense of well-being. A number of dog therapy programs exist across Canada to assist diverse populations such as seniors, university students, and patients recuperating from a stay in the hospital. Most of us can relate to the value of pets when we turn to our own family dog(s) during stressful periods in our lives. There is nothing better than a loyal canine friend to help ease our troubled minds and calm our hearts.
As children often have a great fascination and interest in animals, why not incorporate this special relationship in their learning plan? Therapy animals are accepting beings and offer unconditional love and affection to everyone they meet. What better audience for a child than having a dog listen to them read without judgment?
According to Frontiers in Veterinary Science, ‘there is growing evidence that dogs have a positive effect on reading performance’. Having children read aloud to a dog may possibly help them improve their self-esteem, extend their attention span, and accept their mistakes as a learning tool instead of something to be ashamed of. As more studies are being done to assess exactly how much the presence of a dog actually increases a child’s reading performance, it is encouraging to know that there are solutions for children who experience extreme anxiety when reading aloud. When a dog is included as part of the reading activity, a slight increase in motivation and engagement was seen in children.
Whether trained as a therapy dog or not, dogs provide us with so many benefits. Their unconditional love and acceptance promotes comfort and safety and is a wonderful stress-reducer. It is encouraging to learn that special programs are available for children to help them overcome some of their academic challenges.
Whether or not reading to a dog has long or short-term positive effects on reluctant or anxious readers, it seems apparent that dogs can play an important role to help children master this vital life skill. Reading aloud is essential in order for teachers to measure a child’s progress and identify problems. Unfortunately, unaddressed anxiety interferes with performance – creating issues that have consequences for the child’s wellbeing. Reading with dogs turns a stressful activity into a fun and enjoyable experience – boosting the child’s self-confidence and ensuring that he or she is set up for success. It also provides the perfect example of how animals play a vital role in many peoples’ lives.
Loved at Last Dog Rescue is a Vancouver-based, registered non-profit organization that focuses on finding homes for stray dogs in need. To see our adoptable dogs (and cats) please visit “Meet the Dogs” on our website.
PET THERAPY PROGRAMS:
Contributed by LALDR volunteer.