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Barrie Public Library & St. John Ambulance Partner to Help Children Read

By Jane Salmon, Manager: Literacy, Programming, and Community

Public libraries are always looking for ways to help develop literacy skills for all ages, whether in reading or digital literacy. The Barrie Public Library, like many other libraries in Canada, has found that some children just need some confidence, practise, and gentle encouragement to further develop reading skills. One program that fits the bill perfectly for this is a St. John Ambulance program called “Paws 4 Stories.” Trained therapy dogs and their handlers come to the library and simply listen to children read to the dog. The handlers do not teach reading to the children, they simply listen as the child reads. This is only one of many services offered by St. John Ambulance and their therapy dogs.

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Many libraries around the world have similar kinds of reading to dog programs for children. In Canada, Ottawa has the Ottawa Therapy Dogs R.E.A.D. program, Therapeutic Paws of Canada offers “Paws to Read” programs across Canada, and of course St. John Ambulance offers “Paws 4 Stories.”

Dogs do what humans cannot: they listen without comment and with limitless patience. Dogs do not laugh when a child makes a mistake in their reading or sound impatient when a child struggles with a word. They give children a safe environment to practise reading skills without judgement. In 2010, a study was done at the University of California–Davis that suggested that children who read to dogs improved their own reading skills in comparison to children who did not read to dogs, based on the results of an Oral Text Reading for Comprehension test. At Barrie Public Library, we have seen children improve their reading skills and confidence by taking part in the “Paws 4 Stories” program.

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We have also found that some children signed up to this program to help overcome their fear of dogs. While this is not the prime purpose of the program, it has helped at least two children over the past year become more comfortable with dogs, as well as more comfortable with reading. This program has complemented our other reading encouragement programs such as “Circle of Readers” and the “Readopoly” summer reading game, ensuring that we offer various ways for children to improve their reading skills in a safe, fun, and friendly environment.

Follow the Barrie Public Library on Twitter: @BPL_inthecity

About the Author

Jane Salmon recently retired from the Barrie Public Library, where she was responsible for services and programming for adults, children, and teens.

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Would you enroll your children in programs such as Paws 4 Stories?