by Amanda Newsom
The Athens-Clarke County Library started its Read to Rover program in 2000 to “provide reluctant readers an opportunity to read in a comforting and supportive environment,” according to Evan Bush, ACC Library Youth Services Coordinator.
Dogs certified by Therapy Dog International are scheduled for the program, and anywhere from 10 to 20 kids show up to each program with their accompanying adults. Each child selects a book on their reading level of their choosing. Bush says, “Ironically, many children select books about cats because they think dogs will be interested in stories about cats.” The children are aware of their audience, and they are all thoughtful in the types of books they choose to read to the dogs.
When it’s their turn, each child and their adult (or even entire family) will go in to read to the dog. Bush says, “All of the therapy dogs are excellent listeners and enjoy getting petted as well, which is its own positive incentive.” The Read to Rover program benefits children in that it allows them to read aloud in a non-judgmental, comforting setting in order to build confidence in their reading abilities. It also gives them a positive memorable experience with reading so they will be more apt to read on their own more frequently. Parents or guardians can use the same principles from the program at home by having their children read to their own pets.
Studies show that children who participate in these kinds of programs increase their reading abilities more quickly. Corinne Serra Smith of National-Louis University studied the Sit Stay Read program in Chicago in 2009 and found that children who participated in the program improved their reading abilities by 20 percent more than the control group. Other studies have produced results with similarly consistent findings, as well.
The Read to Rover program also helps to build more compassion and empathy toward animals. This is evident in the children choosing books that they think the dogs will enjoy. It’s also a great way for children who don’t have dogs at home, or who aren’t comfortable around dogs in general, to learn more about them in a calm setting.
The Read to Rover program will pick back up this September and is generally held the third Sunday of each month. The dates and times can be found on the children’s event calendar at athenslibrary.org.