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Story Dogs Program Improves Literacy


When it comes to teaching children to read, there is growing evidence to suggest it can help to have kids read to a dog.

A study released yesterday revealed pets also have an impact on self-esteem and social skills, particularly in children. The University of Liverpool and Waltham Centre study
¹ delved into scientific evidence to understand potential benefits. This latest research adds strength to claims that household pets can help support healthy child development. 

“Anyone that has grown up with, and loved a family pet intrinsically feels the value of their companionship” says Dr Carri Westgarth, project leader. “The scientific evidence investigating the benefits to children and adolescent development looks promising. We dug deep into that evidence to understand which potential benefits were most strongly supported. Ultimately, this will enable us to know more about how pets provide young people with emotional, educational and social support”.

THE AUSTRALIAN STORY DOGS PROGRAM


A growing number of schools are involved in the Story Dogs program, which sees well-trained canines and their handlers assist students with their literacy skills.

Story Dogs is based on the successful American literacy program Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.). Launched in 1999 in Utah USA, it was the first comprehensive literacy program built around the appealing idea of children and young adolescents reading to dogs.

Learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears. “Fear can destroy intelligence” says educator William Ayers. 
Animals are ideal reading companions because they promote relaxation and lower blood pressure, do not judge, laugh or criticise and allow children to proceed at their own pace.

Connor reads with Stumpy and Cindy McGregor as part of the Story Dogs program. Picture: Luke Hemer

The idea of the program is to create a relaxed, fun space for children – typically, Year 2 students to practice their reading skills. When children read to a dog, the outcomes are amazing! It's non-judgmental, children's focus improves, literacy skills increase and confidence soars. The loving nature of dogs gives this program its magic and helps children relax, open up, try harder and have fun reading to a friendly and calm dog.

Reading sessions take place in a quiet area of the school grounds, such as the library or outside the classroom. A reading session is approximately 20 minutes long, where each child is one-on-one with the dog team. 

Story Dog Audrey and a student at MEPS
Books are chosen to suit each student's reading level. During the session, the handler often speaks through the dog, such as: “Sam doesn't understand what is happening on this page, could you help him out?” The child becomes the teacher and their confidence soars! Students are also encouraged to write letters to the dogs at home, thereby encouraging literacy skills.

It costs $500 to put one Story Dogs team into a school. The Story Dogs program receives no government funding and its main source of income comes from private and corporate sponsorships of the dog teams.

For more information and to sponsor one of the volunteer dog teams, please visit www.storydogs.org.au

About Story Dogs

Story Dogs is a not-for-profit organisation which was formed by Leah Sheldon and Janine Sigley 
both parents of primary and high school children. It began at Murwillumbah East Public School in 2009 and dog teams now visit schools around the country.

With 171 volunteer dog teams, this program now helps over 865 children each week across 118 schools in NSW, QLD, VIC, TAS, WA and SA. 

110 Dog Teams are currently sponsored.

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