Canine cuddling: CCA community event explores the joys of reading — with a dog
CCA's Therapy Dog-Literacy Day helped students improve their skills by reading aloud to dogs at our Dickson City Family Service Center.
When Olive goes to work, she’s always stylish in a red bandanna. It’s her signature look, and she knows what it means. It’s time to work. She’s ready to listen and to help a child discover the joys of reading.
Olive is my 2-year-old black Labrador retriever, specially trained as a therapy dog. On Nov. 12, Commonwealth Charter Academy sponsored our first Therapy Dog-Literacy Day, a free community event at our Dickson City Family Service Center. The Lackawanna County Library System Bookmobile was there. Donations of money and goods were accepted for the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter. And, of course, Olive was there with some of her therapy dog friends, ready to listen to young learners reading aloud.
I’ve had dogs all my life, but Olive is special. She found her niche as a therapy dog, and she spends many hours sitting patiently while children read to her. These are kids who have difficulty reading. When they read to a therapy dog, they know they have a nonjudgmental audience. They become comfortable with a book, and they get the practice that’s critical to building literacy.
Olive’s story actually begins with another black Lab, our energetic Otto. OK, “energetic” is a kind word for my big boy. Otto was a little crazy, and our behaviorist suggested we get another dog who could help Otto burn off his excess energy.
From the beginning, Olive and I had a bond. She was clearly a good listener, and I took her to 15 weeks of training with Therapy Dogs International. She loves people so much that I often bring her to the Dickson City office, where I teach CCA classes, for some “office therapy” for my co-workers.
Therapy dogs serve many purposes, from disaster relief to nursing home visitors. As literacy listeners for children, and even adults, they have a remarkable impact.
- The more children read, the better they become. Children with stumbling blocks to reading get discouraged, so they often avoid practicing. Reading to a dog helps them relax and focus on the book.
- Dogs help children overcome their self-consciousness about reading. Dogs don’t judge, so children get a boost in self-confidence. Kids can even learn to get over their fear of animals.
- Reading to dogs can improve test scores.
- There’s a saying in education: “From preschool to third grade, you learn to read. After third grade, you read to learn.” No matter the subject, reading is the foundation for study and learning. Children who are comfortable reading do better in all their classes.
CCA’s free Therapy Dog-Literacy Day brought all those benefits to the community. How does it work? It’s a fun, informal get-together of kids, families and dogs.
- The bookmobile offered a selection of books. Keeping with the spirit of the day, many were pet-themed.
- Kids were assigned a dog and got a quiet, private spot for reading. If they got Olive, they got a people-loving cuddler, but all the therapy dogs there were personable and, like Olive, well-trained.
- To sustain their newfound enthusiasm for reading, kids could use their library cards to borrow books.
- Donations were accepted for Griffin Pond Animal Shelter in South Abington Township. Monetary donations will go toward a cage so we can care for and feed a homeless animal. The shelter’s wish list for donated goods includes dog and cat food, cat litter, blankets, towels and sheets.
CCA teachers were on hand to answer questions from parents about our personalized, high-quality public cyber charter school. As this event showed, cyber education is more than sitting behind a computer. CCA learning is engaging, active and focused on the unique learning styles of every child. Many families say their children get more individualized attention from CCA than they ever got from brick-and-mortar schools.
CCA is open to any idea that makes learning more meaningful for every student, so we’re talking about incorporating therapy dogs such as Olive into our offerings. The terrific thing about CCA is that we have the leeway to dream up creative initiatives and put them into practice. If it’s good for students — and we know therapy dogs have tremendous value — we’ll give it a try.
Olive loves it when I tie her red bandanna around her neck. She knows she’s dressing up to be around people and show her caring, listening side to children who can, finally, experience the wonders of books. She’s ready to greet all her new friends!