A newly developed canine reading programme will have its debut in Napier next month.
Called All Ears, it is aimed at building the confidence of young readers by having them read aloud to a dog, as well as teaching children how to be safe around animals.
Overseas studies have shown reading to animals is proven to remove stress and peer pressure often experienced by children that are still learning to read.
Unlike many other animal reading initiatives, All Ears is a one-on-one programme in which the child reads to the dog once a week for a full school term – allowing the reader and the dog to get to know each other.
All Ears is a co-operative project between the Napier City Council Animal Control team and the Napier Library. Junior readers participating in the programme are recommended by local remedial teachers. The first intake will be four students from Napier Central School.
The project has recruited its first dog to be part of the programme – a nine-year-old Harrier hound called Lady Venice. In a former life, she ran with hunting horses but now in retirement, there is nothing Lady Venice enjoys more than listening to a good story.
“Reading dogs aid young struggling readers by sitting quietly with each one and ‘listening’ as the child reads aloud to them,” Napier Libraries manager Sheryl Reed said.
“Though typically self-conscious reading to another person, children with reading difficulties are much more relaxed with a friendly dog who doesn’t criticise their efforts or laugh at their mistakes.”
Lady Venice was rescued by Napier City Council animal control officer Liisa Jones and when she’s not listening to budding readers, she will continue to live with Liisa and her family.
The first reading dog scheme was the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) programme, set up in Salt Lake City in 1999. Since then the idea has been successfully copied all around the world, in places such as Canada, Italy, Slovenia, South Africa, and Australia.
- Module One: one-on-one reading, (at the Napier Library only to start with), for four children on Fridays 4pm-5pm during term time. Each child will have 15 minutes each reading to Lady Venice, to build their reading confidence in a non-judgemental environment, and to develop a positive relationship with the dog. A new group of children will be selected each term.
- Module Two: Dog confidence – Lady Venice will visit both Napier and Taradale libraries once or twice a year, to make a guest appearance at pre-school story time with her handler, who will teach the children how to interact successfully with Lady Venice.
- Module Three: Pet care (not just dogs). Still in development. This will involve libraries in Taradale and Napier, probably in the school holidays. Likely to be a partnership with NCC Animal Control; and also Civil Defence, so that children can be taught what to do for their pets in the event of a natural disaster.