Just about everyone recalls feelings of dread as a child when they were chosen to read aloud in class. But for some students, these moments of dread can develop into a serious and growing problem known as aliteracy: acquiring basic reading skills, but disliking, or even refusing, to read. Because aliteracy usually can be traced to feelings of fear, shyness and embarrassment, the best way to combat the problem is to find a way for children to read in a fun and empowering environment.
The Marin Humane Society’s SHARE A Book program works closely with local teachers, reading specialists and librarians to help children improve literacy skills while offering them an opportunity to have fun reading—to dogs! SHARE A Book’s human-dog volunteer teams visit schools, libraries, book fairs, after school programs, reading labs and reading bilingual programs.
Read a profile on SHARE A Book volunteer Kathie Meier
Dogs are ideal reading companions because they offer unconditional love and acceptance. As opposed to an audience of their peers, children feel comfortable reading to dogs because their fears and limitations dissolve in the process. Additionally, a child who previously lacked self-esteem as a remedial reader is presented with an opportunity to become a “teacher” by explaining what they are reading to their canine partner.
There are also physiological benefits of being with dogs, including lower blood pressure and increased relaxation. In this calm environment, children tend to forget about limitations. It doesn’t take long before we see marked improvements in reading.
Before participating in the program, dogs and their humans complete a four-week training class led by a certified instructor from the Marin Humane Society. Here, handlers learn how to use their dogs as literacy mentors. Dogs must be kid- and dog-friendly, excel in basic obedience and have passed a vet health check.
For more information on bringing the SHARE A Book program to your school or library, to have your child participate in a reading session, or to become a volunteer team with your dog, please contact the SHARE department.