March is PAWS to Read! Month, a time dedicated to encouraging kids to read aloud to their furry friends. Studies show that children who regularly read aloud to therapy dogs and shelter cats improve their reading skills. The PAWS to Read! program encourages students to read aloud to therapy animals because the practice is said to have a number of benefits including increased concentration and focus, bolstered confidence in reading skills and an opportunity to simply enjoy the practice of reading.
Some classrooms are inviting therapy dogs to visit so students can read to them. With therapy dogs, students can also learn how to cope with some of the personal challenges they face. A recent article featured on KQED MindShift by Juli Fraga offered some interesting insight into this topic.
Fraga writes about how a San Francisco elementary school principal noticed that many of her students were being impacted by family tragedies such as divorce, deaths of family members and community violence. The recent Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education revealed that the vast majority of educators (87%) say that many of their students face barriers to learning that come from outside the school environment. Fraga notes that kids who face challenges outside of school have a harder time concentrating in school.
To help her students develop the tools needed to manage overwhelming emotions and focus on learning, the principal enlisted the help of a therapeutic dog named Stanley who is trained to listen to students read. The article revealed that reading aloud to therapy dogs can help kids who are having trouble focusing on learning by increasing their confidence.
Stanley and other therapy dogs help students learn about empathy and help them get more comfortable with reading aloud. Therapy dogs help students gain confidence because they have a non-judgmental nature and offer a calming presence in which people feel safe. This soothing reading environment is perfect for kids to practice reading aloud.
To find opportunities to read to animals in your community in honor of PAWS to Read! Month, contact your community center or your local animal shelter to see what programs are in place nearby. I know who I’ll be reading to!