I must admit, it came as a bit of a surprise to me during my recent visit to Halton Hills Christian School, when I came upon two dogs sitting in the resource learning area. I learned about a program called PAWS for Reading that allows children to read aloud to a therapy dog in order to improve reading and communication skills. Students read individually to trained therapy pets (and their handlers) in schools, libraries, or other settings where they can feel comfortable and confident.
“The objective is to not only enhance a student’s reading skills and their enjoyment of reading, but also to boost self-confidence”, explains resource teacher Jill denButter. “Even though we’d like for the students to improve their reading, it also improves their self-esteem. Very often children who are challenged with reading don’t feel good about themselves; this makes them feel special. The dogs don’t care if you can’t read well. They’re not judgmental. They’re just happy for the attention!”
PAWS for Reading is a relatively new one-on-one program, but there are a growing number of communities where this program is being offered to students in local libraries. At Halton Hills, the PAWS reading program is offered every Tuesday morning in the quiet setting of the resource room.
Principal Marianne VanGoor explains that it was just a matter of connecting with the dog handlers in the program and setting up times for them to take their trained dogs into the school. “They are more than happy to come here and offer their time to help students”.