Story Dogs help kids with reading

16 Jul
A child reads to a "story dog" at Benowa State School. Picture: Eric M. Norcross

A child reads to a “story dog” at Benowa State School.
Picture: Eric M. Norcross

By Eric M. Norcross, Bond University Journalism Student

Primary school children are improving their reading skills with the help of dogs and their owners in a program that is expanding across the region.

Story Dogs is a reading support program that allows selected children to read one-on-one to a dog and its owner in a non-judgmental environment.

The program started in Murwillumbah, far northern New South Wales, in 2006 and now helps in 39 schools in Australia.

Story Dogs’ Gold Coast dog assessor Evelyn Williams said the program is hoping to expand in the region and is looking for volunteers.

“There is a big need for volunteers,” said Ms Williams.

“We have about 15 dogs at the moment, but we’d like to get a dog in every school.

“We use all breeds – from the smallest to the biggest – as long as they are reasonably calm and like children.”

After meeting criteria, dogs and owners are assigned to schools where they spend one morning a week with selected children in tailored reading sessions.

Retired school teacher Jan Upton said she and her bulldog became Story Dog volunteers because she recognised the need to address illiteracy early.

“As a high school teacher, I’ve seen what not being able to read does to kids – it’s dreadful,” said Ms Upton.

“Some of the programs in high school are wonderful, but it’s almost too late.”

Ms Upton said the program is effective because children look forward to reading.

“It’s about making reading fun – it’s not ‘let’s do your reader,’” she said.

“The fact that they can hug and love the dog and get positive reward from me makes them feel like worthy little people.”

Amelia Sue said her son’s reading and confidence improved from Story Dogs at Benowa State School last year.

“I think the story dog program is effective, and I think it works so well because there is no judgment,” said Ms Sue.

“They’re taken out of the classroom one-by-one, so the other kids can’t hear them read.

“Obviously a dog doesn’t talk or judge them, so it lets them read more freely without worrying about anything.”

For additional information on Story Dogs, visit www.storydogs.com.au.

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