The Reading Education Assistance Dogs scheme improves children’s reading and communication skills by employing a powerful method: reading to a dog.
But not just any dog. R.E.A.D. dogs are registered therapy animals that volunteer with their handler as a team, going to schools, libraries, and many other settings as reading companions for children.
R.E.A.D. is the first comprehensive literacy programme built around the idea of reading to dogs. It originated in the US and has spread to 15 countries and is now being proposed for schools in Alicante after it was successfully introduced in Madrid, Murcia, La Coruna and Logrono. Using 14 dogs and a cat, according to the director for Dogs and Letters in Spain, Elena Dominguez, the success of this therapy is due to the bond created between the dog and the child or adult.
“A close link is created between them, to the point that if the person stops reading or gets lost, the dog gives its paw and encourages them to read. There have been cases of children who had no idea of reading and four or five sessions later have reached an acceptable level,” said Councillor for Youth and Animal Protection, Marisol Moreno. She presented the programme at the university headquarters recently with foundation representatives Humanymal Assisted Therapy Animals and Dogs and Letters.
R.E.A.D. utilises registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament. When these animals come to hear children read, it’s fun and that makes all the difference.
Learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears. Animals are ideal reading companions because they can help increase relaxation and lower blood pressure, listen attentively, do not laugh, judge, or criticise, allow children to proceed at their own pace and are less intimidating than their peers.
When a R.E.A.D. dog is listening, the environment is transformed, a child’s dread is replaced by eager anticipation, and learning occurs. The handler is a skilled facilitator, too, shifting performance pressure off the child and providing support, while the child gets the supervised reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase understanding of the material, and gain fluency as a reader.
Participating children make enormous strides in reading and communication skills while, along the way, building self-esteem, confidence, and social skills. And there are bonus benefits; performance in other subjects tends to improve, as does attendance and even personal hygiene.
This is an initiative that the City of Alicante wants to implement in 2016 in schools as a programme to improve the reading skills of pupils, and Moreno said they would seek financing with other departments and organisations in the city.
The initiative is aimed at pupils at risk of social exclusion or absenteeism, those with learning difficulties or adults who need rehabilitation, and the elderly