kids reading with dogsBy Gay Norton Edelman
Two years ago, after moving from California to Spring Grove, PA, Melanie Mersinger noticed that her daughter Anastasia, then 9, was struggling to catch up in her new school. "She wasn't even close to reading at the recommended level for her grade," says Melanie. But a program at their local library helped turn things around-thanks to a few very special dogs. Photo by Rebecca Drobis/Woman's Day
"In school, kids have to read aloud in front of their peers. That's a lot of pressure," says Deb Sullivan, community relations director for York County Libraries (which include Spring Grove's Glatfelter Memorial Library). But at Tales for Tails, children get to read one-on-one to certified therapy dogs, well-behaved pets who are calm and obedient, which for many kids is much less stressful. "A dog is completely nonjudgmental," says Sullivan. "He doesn't care if you trip over a word. He just wants to give unconditional attention and affection."
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The result? Better readers. A 2010 University of California, Davis study of a similar reading program showed a 12% to 30% increase in kids' reading fluency, a finding Melanie can well believe. "My daughter loves animals, so I thought this program would give her another reason to read," she explains. Since coming to Tales for Tails, Anastasia is reading faster and has less trouble keeping up in class. "We have a reading test every other week and now I do awesome on mine," says Anastasia.
The library's program began six years ago when Gemma Martin, a retired elementary school teacher, met a woman with a therapy dog and thought that her own lovable retriever-hound mix, Molly, would be a good candidate too. Molly passed her certification test with flying colors and began working as a therapy dog. Soon after, Martin began thinking about other ways to put her pet's sweet nature to good use.
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"I knew about read-to-dogs programs in other parts of the country and thought our community needed one," says Martin. It didn't take much to convince officials at Spring Grove's library to get on board. In January 2006, Tales for Tails made its debut: Kids began picking out books, settling in a quiet spot and reading to one of several animals (accompanied by their handlers) recruited from local therapy dog organizations. "It was amazing to see all those happy faces and wagging tails," says Martin.
Since then, the program has expanded to six other county library branches in Pennsylvania, drawing 100 children a month, plus kids who happen to be at the library on those days and want to get in on the fun. Taryn Wallen, 6, is one of the program's regulars. "My favorite dog to read to is Harry," she says. "He always lies close to me, and sometimes he puts his head on my lap when he's listening to the story."
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Taryn is so smitten with the dogs that she usually signs up to read to three of them in a row. "Taryn didn't have a problem learning to read, but she tends to be shy with people," says her dad, Michael. "Cuddling up with a book and a dog is her comfort zone. It's nurturing for her." And after a few months, Michael saw a change in his little girl's social skills. "She started to open up and interact with the other people there," he says. Martin isn't surprised. "A child's confidence really grows in this type of relaxed, comfortable setting," she says.
To find a program in your area, contact your local library, go to TherapyAnimals.org and click on R.E.A.D., or call 801-272-3439.
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Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.You Might Also Like:
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