Monday, November 12, 2012

Reading with some Furry Friends

My library district has a successful and longstanding partnership with a local chapter of Love On a Leash, an organization of therapy pets and their owners. Our partnership supports a program we call Tale Waggers, where children have the opportunity to read to therapy dogs. The rationale behind the program is twofold: 1) reading aloud can be stressful for many children, yet reading to a dog is comforting and judgment-free; and 2) most kids love dogs. Thus we attract children and their caregivers with an enticing program.

Our program is scheduled to last one hour (although we occasionally run a bit over because a child really wants to finish reading a story to a dog). In the past, we've operated the program in two different ways. One option is to have a list of the dogs with time slots next to their names; on a first come, first served basis, children sign up for a ten-minute time slot with a dog. Another option is to allow multiple children to gather around a single dog at a time, at which point they take turns reading. Option #2 tends to work best with the crowd at my library; there's always a rush to sit near and read to a dog at the top of the hour, and allowing multiple kiddos at each dog "station" helps with the flow of things. By the last fifteen minutes, our crowd has dissipated to just a handful of children; these readers get the full benefit of a one-on-one reading session. Knowing that's the format our program usually takes leads me to recommend that caregivers of struggling or shy readers come toward the second half of the program, when the child will be able to read to a dog without an audience.

Many children bring books they've selected on their own to read to the dogs--things they're reading for school and things they just grabbed off the children's stacks. I also like to have a table of great reads available in the program for quick selection. I aim to provide books for a variety of interests and abilities, and I also consider whether the book (or its chapters) are short enough to a) not frustrate a struggling reader and b) take up too much time while other readers are waiting. This month I included selections from recent #SharpSchu Book Club discussions. When in doubt of books to suggest to kids, look to Mr. Sharp and Mr. Schu!

We've got a core group of program-attendees who are always looking forward to the next Tale Waggers program. Have you ever sought out a local therapy pets group to volunteer at your library? I highly encourage you to see what's available in your area.

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