Reading is a fun escape, but for most kids, learning the skill can be challenging. The difficulty often roots from pressure, limited exposure to reading materials, struggles with speech sounds, and lack of confidence. Rather than face the challenge, they prefer to play outdoors or watch television. That’s why it takes a whole lot of patience to teach a kid how to read. Schools and education-based programs have established strategies for years to help with this. Kids need to realize the value of reading skills at an early age. It’s best to opt for an approach that will motivate them instead of making them think that they should be flawlessly reading at the first few attempts. Reading must be introduced as a fun activity that can open their eyes to more knowledge and wisdom.
Several nonprofit organizations are also aiming to help more children practice their reading skills. New York Therapy Animals is one of those organizations, and they introduced a different approach. They utilized the power of dogs over humans, which was proven effective for kids. Reading Education Assistance Dogs was launched in 1999 and is the first literacy support program involving therapy dogs. The program has 4,500 therapy animal teams and partner organizations from all fifty states and twenty-five countries. Their mission is to provide kids with a comfortable and safe space to practice their reading skills. With the help of therapy dogs, they were able to provide that space — truly an efficient way to make reading an exciting activity.
During the reading session, the child is accompanied by a registered therapy dog and its human partner. The dog’s handler teaches and supervises the child’s reading comprehension and fluency. They offer guidance while their friendly furred companion listens. Handlers ensure that the kids can read at their own pace — offering a pressure- and judgment-free zone. Parents of the children under the program are grateful for the existence of READ. A mother and her kid also shared their testimonies in an interview with Good Morning America.
“I always know she’s listening to me when she’s lying down on me. I know my reading is good,” Kamora Latson, a Beekman student, shared. And according to her mother, Jhoven Rojas, “When I read about the program, what it does and how it helps the kids, I was like ‘Please sign me up.’ It helps with her reading level, you know, makes her progress.” Dogs certainly have the ability to make situations lighter. Since their involvement with the children they accompany, the kids always anticipate the reading sessions with joy.
“The reciprocal relationship between the students, the therapy animal, and also just foundational reading, just to bring it all together in ways that support literacy and social-emotional learning, was one of my top priorities, and I knew that the READ program would be a great partner in that initiative,” Nekia Wise, PS 59 Beekman Hill International School principal, explained. Both parents and kids anticipate the weekly meetups. The therapy dog does not only help them read with confidence but also offer them emotional support. Whenever it’s a tough week, the children look forward to reading stories to their therapy dogs. Each session gives them the happiness which a child should feel while learning.
Nancy George-Michaelson and Michelle Sarao from New York Therapy Animals were also invited to Good Morning America’s studio for an interview. Melody and Cooper, who are both dedicated therapy dogs, joined them as well. They shared how the READ program became a success and why it’s an effective approach to motivating kids to read more. “So when Cooper and I read with kids at the library, which we do on a weekly basis, it’s a space for them to feel comfortable and not judged. They read to Cooper, and they’re focused on him, so there’s no pressure of an adult judging them. They are free to sound out the words and, you know, use the skills that they learned in school in a way where they go at their own pace, and they connect with him,” Michelle said.
Nancy also shared how therapy dogs are chosen and trained. In case you’re inspired to join their mission, you can visit their website for more information. Training and workshop details are explained to those interested. If you have a love for kids and reading, you can learn more about the READ program in the interview below. You can also get involved through donations.