How Reading Dogs Can Open Books For Children With Speech Disorders
A recent study has shown that man’s best friend may also be a child’s best friend when it comes to reading. The presence of dogs during reading has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve reading performance. With only a third of American students reaching a proficient level in national reading tests, the use of reading dogs may become more common as schools look for new ways to encourage early readers. For children with speech concerns, these special dogs are patient, non judgmental, and blissfully unaware of anticipation triggers, and could potentially make a real difference to their experience of learning to read.
Practice makes perfect
A study of the reading habits of 9.9 million students found that fewer than one in three read for more than 15 minutes per day. Regular reading is important for making progress, and encouraging children to read aloud helps them to practice sounding out and blending words. It also prevents them from skipping over tricky ones which they might do if reading alone. For a child with speech difficulties, reading aloud can be a daunting task. Fortunately, a reading dog who is trained in obedience and patience, can sit and listen without judgment, helping the child to feel calm and even to enjoy the experience.
Academics agree that asking children questions about their books helps them to engage properly with the text and improves their comprehension, which is essential for effective reading. For children with speech difficulties, being asked to explain the meaning of a page or expression can be a source of anxiety, but describing it to a dog dozing peacefully beside you can be a very different experience. Children can feel confident that the dog has no better idea than them, so there is less fear of getting it wrong. A helper or teacher will usually sit with the dog and the child to gently prompt them with questions, but the answers are left between the child and their new furry friend.
A recent study of dogs in the workplace found that they contributed “social support” and decreased stress levels among employees. Similarly in schools, the presence of reading dogs may make pupils calmer, less anxious and more open to their learning. This is particularly beneficial to kids with speech concerns as they may already feel uncomfortable in social situations. Of course, health and safety concerns need to be taken into account, but on balance, having canine companions in school could benefit all pupils and even staff, not just those with speech concerns.
As schools seek to improve the nation’s literacy, reading dogs could become a valuable part of the learning process. For children with speech concerns they can add real value because of their patience, enabling children to practice reading aloud, explain meanings and even enjoy the experience. In addition, they can offer comfort and companionship which help to reduce anxiety and stress levels, helping to open wonderful worlds to children.