Children learning to read face many obstacles, especially if they’re learning English as a second or third language. Some have learning disabilities that prevent them from keeping up with their classmates. Still others are shy or feel anxious when reading aloud.
Through our Puppy Dog Tales Reading (PDT) Program, we promote literacy in at-risk youth populations and work closely with school and library staff to stimulate a love of reading in children. Reading to an adult may seem overwhelming, so participants in this program read to therapy dogs. Teams are placed at a school or library for six-week to yearlong sessions and work with four to six children for 10-20 minutes each. Reading becomes a sustained, individual activity that children eagerly anticipate. Volunteers have the opportunity to develop a rapport with students and support their efforts in a non-judgmental way.
Training for PDT teams demands more than standard AAT training, but the rewards are phenomenal. Volunteers report that children who could not read through a sentence in the first meeting quickly warm up to their pets, feeling safe and supported enough to meet their reading challenges. Children who were too nervous to read aloud in class uncover self-confidence; those who needed additional attention in vocabulary and grammar find themselves finishing books.
The PDT Program began with a pilot at the Chinatown Branch of the San Francisco public library in June 2007. Since our modest start, we’ve added more libraries and San Francisco unified schools to our program. We are currently seeking new PDT teams to fill the increasing demand for our services. All PDT teams go through training in the general program in addition to more specialized training.