Studies have shown that children who read aloud in a non-judgmental setting develop confidence–confidence in the way they speak to their peers and confidence in their own reading skills. Parents, teachers and other adults can sometimes be critical when children are poor readers and hinder their ability to develop the same confidence other children get from reading out loud.
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“They’ve done tons of studies that show when a child reads to a non-judgmental, in this case, creature, an animal, they develop confidence and it indirectly tends to helps their reading ability,” said Patty Guthrie, leader of Love on a Leash’s Silicon Valley chapter.
“If you do the research, it’ll show, between the studies, that kids reading to pets will actually become more confident. They’re willing to talk in front of their peers because they’re now more comfortable at talking. Their grade levels do go up even though we’re not teaching them, it’s indirect.”
A crew of four-legged friends visited Santa Clara’s Book Inc. on March 26. These included two cats–one being Gurthrie’s 16-pound, 10-year-old black rescue from Town Cats in Morgan Hill named Mokey. There were also three therapy dogs–including Gurthrie’s eight-and-a-half-year-old blue merle Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Throughout the two hours Love on a Leash occupied the store’s children’s section, kids patiently waited for the chance to read to one of the five animals visiting.
Each child was introduced to the animal, and sat on the floor or in a chair while they read to their chosen dog or cat, many of which gazed at them throughout. Once finished, the reader received a bookmark with the animal’s photo that proclaimed which dog or cat listened to them read.
According to Gutherie, collecting the bookmarks, made by member Lisa Hirano–whose four-pound, eight-year-old, Maltese Shih tzu Hana gave everyone a high five once their book was finished–sometimes become a fun, reading challenge.
“I haven’t seen it yet [today] but in some venues kids decide they want to collect them all,” she said. “They’ll go around and read to each one to collect each bookmark.” She added that the group has anecdotal evidence of children being so excited to read to the animals that they practice at home to prepare for the next opportunity.
Gutherie said each dog and cat–of which the Silicon Valley Chapter has “six or seven” badged members–must pass a vet evaluation (cats and rabbits) or extensive command training through a certified dog trainer. Once each animal gets the green light, they complete 10 supervised visits, and, if they pass, the animal’s information gets sent in, a badge is received and the animal is then able to visit “anywhere they’re invited.”
Although the Silicon Valley chapter of Love on a Leash is small, the group is growing and Gutherie hopes they’ll be able to do more events in the future.
“Bookstores seem to be a good fit because it’s nice to do the occasional event,” she said. “We’re still small enough to where it’s hard to say we can be there the third Thursday at such-and-such place. Plus, since this store is so new it’s nice to slowly bring it up.”
Love on a Leash is a national non-profit organization. Visit www.loveonaleash.org for more information.