The Weekly News
A handful of public libraries in HRM are offering children the opportunity to gain self-confidence and discover the joys of reading in a fun environment with a furry audience. Paws to Read allows children in Grades 1 through 5 to join a trained reading therapy dog and its handler for weekly, judgement-free reading sessions.
“The idea is that it’s for kids who are learning to read, but are struggling with it a little bit,” explained Alison Creech, Children’s Librarian at Alderney Gate Library. “It’s a confidence builder for kids who for some reason don’t want to, or don’t like to, read aloud.”
Originally the program was targeted at children who struggled with reading; however, Creech advised that parents are enrolling their children for a myriad of reasons.
“I have talked to parents whose kids don’t have a lot of confidence when they are reading, so they are looking at it to help them build self confidence reading aloud. I have had parents whose kids are in French immersion and they were worried that their English reading was falling behind. It is not necessarily just struggling readers anymore,” said Creech.
Reading therapy dogs have been in the library since 2005 when Don LeBlanc, a retired member of the Canadian Coast Guard brought his labrador retriever, Cody, in to listen to children read aloud.LeBlanc is now a volunteer team leader with the non-profit organization, Therapeutic Paws of Canada.
As part of Therapeutic Paws of Canada’s evaluation program for dogs, the animals must spend a minimum of six months visiting in senior’s homes before passing a second evaluation that allows them to be with children.
“Our goal is to make the dog ‘bomb proof’, so that no matter what happens, the dog will never bite or snap,” said LeBlanc.
Prior to each child meeting their four legged friend, librarians and Paws to Read volunteers consider what grade the child is in, what grade level they are reading at, what the parent’s goal for the program is, and the child’s interests so that the books that are placed in the reading space will be appealing to each child.
“Our approach here is, we want to make it an enjoyable experience for the child and not put any pressure on them, and yet we still want to encourage them to read and find the library a fun place to work,” explained LeBlanc.
“A lot of the children we deal with are shy, or other kids have made fun of them in school for reading and making mistakes.Or, they are just reluctant readers or may have learning disabilities.Those are really the children that we can help the most.What we are trying to do is attract children to the library to do something fun,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc estimated that 150 children go through the Paws to Read program annually in HRM.
Both LeBlanc and Creech agree that the children build a relationship with the dogs, sometimes bringing in biscuits from the market or delivering cards for the animals at Christmas time. One young student even wrote a book about Cody.
“They definitely get attached,” said Creech.
LeBlanc’s popular retriever passed away recently, but he remains committed to the program, borrowing a dog to bring to the library, as well as on weekly visits to the IWK.
At present, the program is available in five of the library’s branches, but ideally, LeBlanc would like to see two teams in each branch of the Halifax Public Libraries.Positive feedback from parents suggests that more teams would be welcomed.
“We hand out a survey at the end and the parents have nothing but positive things to say about it. Its got books, its got dogs, its got children, what more could you want?” asked Creech.