No child should be left behind in literacy. To make reading fun for children so they become confident, lifelong readers, Story Dogs visits primary schools and allows children to read to a dog and its handler in a private, non-judgmental setting. As of last month, 1840 children Australia-wide have been helped by Story Dogs. There are 366 volunteer dog teams and 220 schools are involved.
The not-for-profit Story Dogs program provides well-trained dogs and their volunteer owners to assist students with their literacy skills and in many cases their emotional needs. There’s an amazing outcome when a child reads to a dog; the child’s literacy skills increase, their focus improves, and their confidence blooms. It’s the accepting, loving nature of dogs that gives the program its pure magic, helping the children open up, relax, try harder and have fun while reading. During the session the handler will often speak through the dog, saying such things as: “Spot doesn’t understand what’s happening on this page. Can you help him out?” Here the child becomes the teacher and their confidence soars.
Story Dogs was formed by Leah Sheldon and Janine Sigley in 2009, and the Melbourne branch was launched in 2014. Believing that learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than overcoming fears is what gives Story Dogs its high success rate. The dogs are the perfect reading buddies because they promote relaxation and don’t judge, laugh or criticise, allowing the child to proceed at their own pace. It’s a program that creates a relaxed, fun space for children to practise their reading skills in a quiet area of the school grounds for 20 minutes of one-on-one time with the dog team and a book chosen to suit their reading level. When it comes to teaching children to read, there is growing evidence to suggest it can help to have kids read to a dog.
There are 12 volunteer dog teams within the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula area and they’re rapidly growing. Several schools have indicated that they would like multiple teams because they can see the benefits of the program reflected in their students’ confidence and progress.
For more information about volunteering and to sponsor one of the volunteer dog teams, visit storydogs.org.au