Canines key to improving childhood literacy

A PROGRAM centred on reading to dogs is helping improve literacy in young children.

‘Story Dogs’ is a national reading support program that sees an accredited dog and its handler visit schools for some one-on-one reading time with selected children.

Jacqui Brown and her boxer Lollipop have been visiting Austins Ferry Primary School for the past four years.

Ms Brown said in that time she had witnessed the many benefits of combining dogs, children and reading.

“The dog comes and the magic happens,” she said.

“I think what makes Story Dogs so successful is that the dogs are non-judgemental.

“The children are usually coming out of a class where they’re not at the same level as their peers, but reading to a dog gives them the confidence to give it their best shot and it makes them feel special.

“And it is not just for children with low literacy, but has also been used as a reward for good behaviour and for children who have undergone trauma.

“The responses we’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive, Lollipop absolutely loves it and it’s just a great thing to be involved with.”

Austins Ferry Primary School grade four student Blake Bailey has been reading with Lollipop for two terms.

Since that time, he has progressed from a level 15 to level 30 reading skill.

“I just like reading to Lollipop because she’s very nice and likes when I read to her,” Blake said.

“If I tried to read to my dog, she’d just try and eat the book.”

There are currently 880 children throughout Australia participating in Story Dogs, with 25 teams located in Tasmania.

“But most of those teams are located in the north of the state,” Ms Brown said

“There are currently a number of schools in southern Tasmania looking for a Story Dogs team, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough volunteers.

“That is why we are on the lookout for people in the Hobart area who would be interested in joining.

“Story Dogs is very much a volunteer-run organisation, so any help – whether by forming a team or sponsoring a dog – goes a long way to helping a child improve their literacy.”

Dog teams must pass an accreditation by a certified dog trainer, as well as be well groomed, vaccinated and vet checked.

For more information on Story Dogs, visit www.storydogs.org.au.

Caption: Austins Ferry Primary School grade four student Louis Brewer (dressed as a convict for Book Week) with boxer Lollipop.