Paws for Reading
● By Wendy Sipple
Photos by Dante Fontana
The bottom line for young readers is this: the more you read, especially aloud, the better you read. Try telling that to the average five-or-six-year-old, however, and they’re likely not to be convinced. Many struggle with learning to read, view it as a chore, or are just shy and uncomfortable reading aloud.
One program that could change all that is Cameron Park Library’s PAWS for Reading, which lets kids come into the library and read aloud to some of the gentlest and most loving dogs in the world. “Research has long supported how much programs like these can help kids advance their reading abilities,” says Nancy Owen-Hazard, branch manager and youth services librarian for the Cameron Park Library. “The dogs are non-judgmental, they love the company, and they’ll happily listen all day long.”
One certainly can’t argue with the data. Separate studies by UC Davis and the San Francisco SPCA found amazing results. The UC Davis study examined two groups of kids in the same reading program, one which read aloud to dogs and one which didn’t. According to the results, the kids who read to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of the 10-week program, while kids who didn’t read to dogs showed no improvement. Preliminary data from the San Francisco study shows kids who read to dogs are progressing three times faster (in words per minute) than kids who aren’t.
Is it really the dogs that make the difference? In part the answer is yes, because they’re not exactly a tough audience. Kids can read stories aloud to the dogs without fear of being corrected or snickered at, which makes many of them less anxious about reading aloud. Researchers agree that less anxiety promotes better learning, and reading out loud promotes better comprehension. “It’s also a great program for kids who want to get over a fear of dogs,” says Kim Burkhardt with El Dorado Second Sight Paws for the Blind, who brings the dogs into the library each week. “These are dogs that were raised to be guide dogs but didn’t graduate. Now they’re certified therapy dogs that just want to give and receive lots of love.”
The PAWS for Reading program is free and held year-round every Tuesday at the Cameron Park Library from 4-5 p.m. Kids (and adults) come in, pick their dog and snuggle up for 15-minute reading sessions. The program is open to people of all ages, including those in their 40s, 50s and up; even those who can’t read yet. “We get some kids in here who look at their picture books and make up stories for the dogs about what’s happening in the pictures,” Owen-Hazard says. “We tell them they can read anything they want…except stories about cats.” •
For more information or to sign up (registration is required), visit eldoradolibrary.org/cameron.htm.