For kids who don’t like to read, reading aloud can be stressful. Maybe they read slowly, or sound choppy, or just have trouble recognizing the words. When a child is anxious about reading and lacks confidence, it can lead to self-esteem issues. This can be compounded by having to read aloud in front of peers, which happens many times a week per child in the average classroom.
While children need strategy skills they can focus on to improve their reading comprehension and fluency, they also need practice, and lots of it. The more practice the better. This is why teachers assign reading for homework, and every school, library and blog about reading suggests you read aloud to your child (and have them read to you) every night.
While parents make very good listeners, let’s face it, you only have so much time to listen and sometimes your child may want to broaden his audience (no offense of course.) Enter…cats and dogs! They’re lovable, fluffy, sweet and have wet noses. What else could you want in a reading buddy? Plus, most will sit long enough to have a book read to them, especially if they get a tummy rub and treat.
Cats and dogs make exceptional read aloud partners for numerous other reasons. They calm anxious children, they are non-judgmental, they (usually) don’t interrupt and most kids love them, making our feline and canine friends very acceptable audiences to children who are nervous to read aloud.
There have been many successful programs launched around this idea; cats and dogs are getting read to in shelters, libraries, classrooms and homes around the world as teachers, parents and other caring adults are realizing the myriad benefits. For example, In Anita Stone’s article, “Reading” Dogs Help Children Learn,” she explains how trained dogs are used in schools to sit quietly as struggling readers excitedly read books they chose just for them.
Though the children believe they are teaching dogs to read, in fact, with the dog as a comfortable, attentive audience (and an occasional gentle assist from the dog’s adult volunteer partner), they are actually teaching themselves. As far as the child is concerned, however, reading is about the dog, not about the child. No pressure. No embarrassment. No humiliation.
Similarly, through the Book Buddies program, Humane Society dogs get help socializing from young readers who, after a short training program, helps dogs gain comfort with visitors who are prospective adopters. Dogs who are improved socially have a better chance of being adopted so if your child needs a very strong reason to read to a dog, this could be it. The children reading to shelter dogs are helping the dogs in the shelters as much as they help themselves.
Cats are getting in on the benefits too. At cat shelters everywhere, children are reading to them for the same reasons as shelter dogs. The children get to practice reading, and the cats get help with socialization. Plus, everyone has a darn good time. Take 7-year-old Colby of Berks County, Pa. His mom brought him to a local shelter running a Book Buddies for cats program in hopes it would help his tantrums and crying over reading. Now, “He goes right into the room with all the cats, opens the book, and they come running to lay down and listen,” she said, adding, “There’s no struggling anymore. He’s a joy to read with now, and he’s so confident.”
So how can parents use this idea at home? What if you don’t have a dog or cat for your child to read to? Fear not! Get my free resource on 10 Ways Your Child Can Read with an Animal (even if you don’t have a pet at home!)
This guide also includes eight websites that give you more information on this practice, how it benefits kids and several ways you can get involved.
So what about the rest of the pet population in homes? Do they make good reading partners too?
They definitely do. Why not have your child read to the family bunny, ferret, gerbil, guinea pig, fish or gecko? If you have any pet at home, it just needs to sit still long enough to be read at least a few pages (this is where a cage may come in handy for some of the squirmier species…)
Parents and teachers who take part in the reading-to-animals programs all over share that the results are amazing. Children are reading more often, and because of this, are reading better, more fluently, and most of all, are enjoying reading.