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JoAnna Lou
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Dogs in School
Literacy pups help kids develop a love of reading and writing
A child reads to Nemo at the Scarsdale Library.

As a certified Good Dog Foundation therapy team, Nemo and I have visited our local library many times over the years. During these visits, I’ve noticed that the children develop more confidence every time we see them. We’ve even helped one girl overcome her fear of dogs. In today’s world of video games and television, it’s great to see kids get excited about reading and focus their attention on something non-technology related.

A recent study by a University of Alberta researcher, Lori Friesen, found that dogs can help foster a positive effect on children’s love of reading and writing. Friesen’s research assigned two Maltese Poodles, Tango and Sparky, to a second grade classroom in Alberta, Canada. She believes that the second grade is a critical period for developing a love of literacy and that dogs can help motivate children to develop a lifelong habit of reading and writing.

In the study, children signed up for weekly reading or writing sessions with Tango and Sparky. Friesen found that the program eased children’s fear of reading aloud and helped them develop a positive association with reading, writing and even school in general.

One third of the children took their experience with Tango and Sparky outside of the classroom and started reading or writing with their dogs at home. Parents reported that their kids were choosing to read when they previously wouldn’t have and that they were now talking about school at the dinner table for the first time. The children loved reading and writing with the pups so much that parents even noticed an increased motivation to go to school in the morning.

The study’s findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Language & Literacy, although Friesen disagrees with their categorization of her work as “animal–assisted therapy.” Friesen insists that the literacy dog program is not therapy since it is goal-oriented.

No matter what Friesen’s program is called, it’s clear that these literacy dogs are helping kids develop a lifelong love of reading and writing.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Andi Schreiber.

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