Schools around Australia are embracing an unlikely partner to help them with the complex task of teaching young children to read; calm gentle dogs and their handlers, Story Dogs.
Here are three ‘pictures’ of what makes up a Story Dogs reading session at the start of the school year.
Picture One: Big brown expressive eyes, silky soft fur: so soft. Floppy ears that are full of personality, soft ears, a wagging tail unable to hide the excitement and loyalty oozing from within. A faithful companion.
Picture Two: Thin white legs with bruises and a scabby knee leading into scuffed black shoes. A wrinkled shirt two sizes too big. A mop of unbrushed brown hair hangs over vibrant blue eyes. The eyes are open wide, is it fear or excitement? Thin dry lips, with a nervous tongue flicking along them. Hands nervously fiddling with the cover of a book, rolling, unrolling, rolling, unrolling.
Picture Three: Hair with more silver than black. Soft, highly textured skin showing all the hallmarks of an outdoor youthful life, now blotched in patches of light and dark. Smiling, kind eyes behind glasses. Comfortable shoes. An air of patience, no rushing.
These three pictures are the elements of the Story Dogs program: a loving, well behaved, loyal dog; a nervous, confidence lacking young child; a kindly, patient older volunteer.
Story Dogs is a unique reading support program free for primary school children. A Story Dogs reading session is a time where the child can be one-on-one with the dog and handler for 20 minutes. The dog does not judge the child, there is no pressure, no peers to sneer or leer, just a fun relaxed environment to enable the child’s confidence to soar. The outcomes of the program are amazing; confidence grows, reading levels improve and reluctant readers want to read.
Story Dogs uses everyday dogs, people’s pets. All sorts of breeds are used. We have expert dog trainers assess the volunteer and the dog to make sure there is no risk to the children and to also make sure that the dog will not become too stressed and be OK with lying and listening to the stories. Our volunteers are not teachers and do not teach the children. If a child does not know the word then we give them the word and focus on making the experience fun.
At Story Dogs we resonate strongly with the quote from William Butler Yeats “ Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire” with Story Dogs being the spark to light that fire in our young children.
Here is our final ‘picture’;
Small fingers move slowly, rhythmically, through soft fur. Blue eyes intently bouncing over large words on a page. A small voice becoming louder and more confident. Knowing, smiling, patient eyes giving permission for hesitation. Colourful, interesting, engaging pictures. A fun captivating story. A relaxed lounging furry body with big brown liquid eyes and deep regular breaths of contentment.
This is a fun, non-judgemental Story Dogs reading session. The spark.
For more information please see the Story Dogs Website HERE
Donations to Story Dogs are tax deductible, find out more HERE