From purchasing page-turners to signing kids up for fun literacy activities, parents keen on encouraging their kids to read are always looking for ways to instill motivation. A study undertaken by researchers at Tuft University has shown that one new and effective way to do so  – is by having children read to dogs! The study, which focused on children in second grade, found that children who read to dogs developed a more positive attitude to reading – something that many would say is an attribute that most great readers possess in abundance.

What did the Study Find?

The study divided second grade readers with average reading abilities into two groups. The first group read aloud to a therapy dog for half an hour weekly. The control group followed the school’s standard reading program. Results showed that the “dog reading” group had a significantly better attitude toward reading after the program. The reading skills in both groups remained relatively the same, but researchers feel that this is because all students were already able readers. They are keen on repeating their research on students with a less-than-average ability, to see whether skills are improved through “dog therapy”.

Why is the Study so Important?

Previous research had already shown that dogs have the ability to lower stress, and even lower heart rate and blood pressure. The stress buffering effect of dogs is one reason why many companies (including Google and Amazon) have pet-friendly policies. Dogs bring many benefits to workers and students alike. In the case of reading, because dogs are non-judgmental, they remove the “fear of negative feedback” that students can face in a typical classroom setting.

Pets as Therapy

Many schools rely on the help of trained dog therapists to aid with reading programs. If you are keen on having dogs read to your children at school, or you are a teacher keen on improving contact an association like Pets as Therapy (PAT). The latter takes dogs to classrooms, telling kids that the dogs “love hearing stories”. Children are encouraged to speak loud enough so that “Fido can hear them” or to answer questions such as “Fido wants to know what that word means.” After the class, children are allowed to pet the dog, which is a huge reward that is always much appreciated. Not all children can take part in assisted sessions, of course. Normally, teachers select children who lack confidence in reading, those who may have attention deficit, or those who find it difficult to read.

If you are a parent of a child that doesn’t enjoy reading as a hobby, and you or a close relative has a dog, why not make the next reading session all about Fido? Your child will enjoy the novelty, but probably also find the motivation they need to keep at it. Sometimes, children can “freeze up” when they are scared to disappoint a parent or teacher. By bringing a dog into the equation, your child can experience the boosting effects of support and companionship, and discover that Fido does actually enjoy the sound of your child’s voice reading to him!

Contributed by freelance writer Jocelyn Brown

Categories: Family Time