Reading with a therapy dog can give a child the confidence he needs to develop a love of reading
Emma is a wildly popular reading assistant in several North Vancouver schools. Endlessly patient, she never insists that kids sound out a word or pay attention. And as students read, she helps them to hold their book open — with her paw.
A gentle black Labrador retriever, Emma is not your typical pooch. Through years of training with her owner, Mary Brown, Emma is a registered therapy dog. Therapy dogs are assessed for temperament and behaviour, and certified so they can visit schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Brown completed the READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) course, so she and Emma could help kids read in schools and libraries.
This novel idea was the brainchild of Sandi Martin, a nurse in Salt Lake City, Utah. Now READ has programs internationally, and 41 teams based in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
At each school where Brown volunteers, the resource team chooses students who are at least one grade level behind in reading. Brown accompanies students as they each read to Emma for 20 minutes, on a soft, dog-print blanket. “I tell them Emma loves the sound of the human voice,” she says.