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  • Writer's pictureSheily Webster

R.E.A.D.-ing to Man's Best Friend

You play fetch with your dog, walk them to the park, play tug of war with them, but have you ever read to your dog? Intermountain Therapy Animals is a nonprofit organization that created the program R.E.A.D. which stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. R.E.A.D. uses registered therapy animals that come into a teacher's classroom to have students read to them. These dogs are specifically trained and certified to be therapy dogs, meaning the dogs have been trained and tested for safety, health and appropriate temperament so kids can relax while reading to them.

Imagine being a struggling reader at school, or learning to read in another language. The fear and embarrassment of making a mistake in front of others can negatively affect that student's experience of reading. This can cause you to shut down and completely avoid reading. Do you remember a time when you were just paralyzed with fear about reading in front of a group or someone else? Reading out loud to a teacher or even your friends can be intimidating. Kids need to have positive reading experiences as they learn to read to become lifelong lovers of reading.

This program started in 1999 and today after 20 years they have 6,000 therapy animal teams and other affiliated organizations in all 50 states of the United States and in some 25 other countries. The demand for using these animal teams to calm students to read out loud is significant because the results show that it works. Here are some testimonials from the program:

"When my son started reading to Buddy...I started to notice how excited he was about reading, how he talked about it, and about the dog, all the time, and how the excitement and interest in reading carried over, even when the dog wasn't there."

-Keegan's Dad in Twin Falls, ID. Intermountain Therapy Animals.

"Little did we realize what an impact you would make. Academically, those students that participated in R.E.A.D. experienced phenomenal growth. And, as icing on the cake, students began to enjoy reading to themselves, too, began to exhibit a curiosity for different books, and most importantly gained self confidence in not only their reading ability, but their ability to interact with others in positive ways."

-Rae Louie, Principal, Bennion Elementary School, Salt Lake City, Utah. Intermountain Therapy Animals.

Now, we know dogs can't read, but they are definitely great listeners! Reading aloud is a powerful tool for kids to develop literacy. Just by reading out loud kids are practicing sounding out words, detecting syllables, and visually connecting sounds to words. And the more they do it, the more their skills will grow. Dogs are not intimidating, they do not judge, and they let kids read at their own pace all while making them feel comfortable and safe. They are just the right kind of cheerleaders that many kids might need to overcome their fear of reading out loud.

For all you future teachers out there, this is a great way to help all readers in your classroom feel more comfortable with reading! You can schedule an appointment or learn more about the program by visiting their website here!

- McKay School Ambassadors

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