Remember when your class would read aloud in school? Chances are you counted the number of people ahead of you and the number of paragraphs, to be read to find out what paragraph would be your turn. While everyone else was reading, you practiced reading and rereading your section. Hopefully nobody had to go to the washroom or all your practice was wasted. When it was your turn, was your throat dry? Perhaps your heart was pounding and your palms were moist with sweat of anxiety.
Educators repeatedly ask children to commit an act – reading a text aloud – that many adults would do almost anything to avoid. Not surprisingly many children feel increased anxiety when asked to read. They don’t want to make any mistakes in front of their peers or with family member that they love.
If you had been attending Story Pals with us on Tuesday evenings since February 14th, this would not be the picture that you would have found. Children have been relaxed and happily reading aloud to their extremely attentive audience. Their audience may look a little strange for a library, and they certainly create quite a stir when they arrive – four legs and furry?! In Story Pals children between the ages of six and nine, read to highly socialized dogs and their handlers, who are volunteers with the Pet Access League Society, a non-profit organization in Calgary "dedicated to enhancing the life of individuals through pet therapy".
Story Pals provides a relaxed and “dog-friendly” atmosphere, which allows students to practice their reading skills. By sitting down next to a dog and reading, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on reading. One young boy can often be seen holding his book open with one hand, as he pets his beagle pal with the other hand. Reading skills develop because the child is practicing the skill, while building self-esteem and associating reading with something pleasant.
Improving the child’s reading is a major benefit of Story Pals but other benefits can be seen as well. A library customer was overheard saying that the program “builds excitement about reading”. Many children talk about going home and reading to their own dog, or other pet. There is no better way to improve a skill than to practice it!
Another benefit is the joy the children and really all library visitors experience during the program. An older couple that regularly uses the library was thrilled to see the dogs in the library. They had recently lost their family pet, and told a staff member that “...being around other animals was therapeutic”. We have seen them every Tuesday night since!
Story Pals has been a hit at Nose Hill library. But the dogs will be leaving soon so if you have a chance - come by and see the furry, friendly faces. And hurry - because the program ends on March 20th and the dogs will be leaving us for now - wagging their little tails behind them!!!!