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North Hills Monthly

Children Gaining Skills, Developing Self-confidence through Reading with Rover Program

Feb 27, 2015 06:39PM ● By Linda Gerber
It’s a simple concept that produces great results—children with reading difficulties read their books aloud to dogs and the dogs listen, providing the kids with their undivided attention and unconditional acceptance.

Reading with Rover, a program that benefits students in first through third grade who are currently receiving reading support, is the result of a partnership between Animal Friends and Rogers Primary School in the Shaler Area School District. The program recently returned after a two-year hiatus.

Children are recommended by their teachers to participate, and there are currently 35 students enrolled in the program. An average Reading with Rover session lasts 15 to 20 minutes per student, and since dogs are ‘on duty’ for one hour at a time, several students are able to enjoy reading sessions with each dog.

Jan Ranii-Dropcho, a first-grade teacher who had worked with Animal Friends, originally told other teachers about the program because she thought that it would be great for students. Although it has only been in place at Rogers Primary School since December of 2014, Reading with Rover has already proven to be a success.

“There is nothing like seeing the true happiness on a child’s face when they see the dogs on a regular basis. They look forward to the visits and look forward to reading to them,” said Reading Specialist Danielle Franc. “Academically, it gives students more confidence and helps with their reading fluency. Socially, it allows them to make connections to another living thing. Personally, they feel as if they have a real friend and someone who loves them unconditionally. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

The dog/handler teams who attend have passed the Animal Friends’ Therapets canine certification test. Referred to as ‘canine reading specialists,’ the dogs are brought in by their handlers to create a nonjudgmental and supportive environment. The dogs respond with affection to the children’s voices and even their body language. While the children are reading, the dogs sit calmly and quietly. They have been trained to stay still for extended periods of time and are comfortable around the other dogs in the program.

Practicing oral reading skills without the pressure of judgment is at the heart of the success of the Reading with Rover program. Children who may be hesitant to read aloud to their peers are able to relax, which in many cases allows them to read more fluently. Kids can curl up on the floor with their canine companions to enjoy a comfortable and fun reading experience.

Each child is given a book that has been selected and approved by the Animal Friends’ humane education coordinator. Reading out loud to a therapy dog allows a child to make a mistake, mispronounce or pause while sounding out a word. Reading to therapy dogs prevents children from feeling self-conscious, and program results have shown that children not only have improved reading skills but also more positive attitudes.

“The students really look forward to reading with the dogs. It is a supportive environment and provides a warm, nurturing place where students can practice their fluency and reading skills,” said Jenna Webb, a K-3 learning support teacher. “Our students become attached to both the handlers and the dogs and look forward to seeing them every week.”

To learn more about Reading with Rover, contact Animal Friends at 412-847-7081 or visit