21 May 2008

Dogs Provide an Ear, Tool for Reading

In one hand is a book. While the other hand gently pets a therapy dog. Students at Curtsinger Elementary School in Frisco are practicing reading out loud, but with a twist. Instead of reading to classmates, they're reading to dogs. "They can hear you and they listen," says Zachary Guerrero, a third grader. Listening is the key.

"It's given him a lot more confidence because when he reads with the dog, the dog doesn't correct him, where when he reads with me I tend to correct," says Donna Guerrero, Zachary's mother. "He's more excited to read."

Zachary says reading to the dogs is simply fun. He says he's reading more and wants to come spend time with the dogs. "You get to read to the dogs and they listen to you and you get to sit by them and they are very soft," he says.

Curtsinger began the new after school program this month. It was developed by teacher Diane Gossett, a therapy dog owner. Volunteers from Heart of Texas Therapy Dogs bring their certified dogs each Thursday.

"Fortunately the administrators in our school are also dog lovers and animal people, so they were open to the concept," Gossett says. It's a concept that's been used in schools and libraries across the country for a few years, but Gossett believes Curtsinger is the first school in this area to use the reading dogs.

"I do know the power that animals have with kiddos," says Principal J'Lynn Anderson. The program works to make reading out loud more comfortable for these children, who often struggle in front of their classmates. "You can see the confidence on the kiddos face, that unconditional love, there's not a threat there, there's no stress," Anderson says. "They're just enjoying reading their books with a pal."

Twelve students are in this pilot, five-week program. The changes, teachers and parents say, are clear. "We have seen children that don't normally talk a lot, open up," Gossett says. "We've seen self confidence increase."

"Just being with the dogs, it just makes him feel calm and excited," Donna Guerrero says. "And they don't judge him when he reads. They just listen." Parents like Guerrero hope the program will lead to the children reading more, not only to the dogs, but eventually in class and beyond. "We want to them to perform a certain way, but with the dogs they just accept them the way they are and so they encourage them to read more," she says.

Video: Reading To Dogs New Teaching Tool

[Source: WFAA.com Dallas-Fort Worth News]