Improve your child’s attitude to reading: involve a dog

A new study by Tufts University in Massachusetts has shown that getting children to read aloud to a dog can improve a child’s attitude to reading in schools.

The Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction carried out a six-week after-school canine-assisted reading program in a public elementary school setting with Second-grade students. Using registered therapy dog, children were asked to read for thirty minutes, once a week. Their results were contrasted with a control group, using a standard classroom curriculum. Children’s reading skills were assessed bi-weekly and attitudes about reading were assessed pre- and post-intervention.

The canine-assisted reading sessions were conducted at an elementary school immediately after the school day. For thirty minutes, half of the children selected books from a set of books assigned by their teacher that was deemed appropriate for their reading level, as per standard practice. Each of these seven children were then paired with their assigned dog-handler team (one dog per child) and were given a quiet space to read aloud individually which was distributed among three selected rooms. These children then each read aloud from their book selection one on one with their assigned dog-handler team for the full thirty minutes.

The children’s attitudes towards academic and recreational reading were measured (e.g., “How do you feel when you read a book in school during free time?”), with response options being four pictorial representations of the comic strip character “Garfield” with expressions ranging from very happy to very upset. Items were scored from one (very upset) to four (very happy). The academic and recreational scores were then evaluated, with children in the intervention group also completed a rating of the information sessions each week. The investigator asked each child how she or he liked the session, and the children were given a piece of paper to circle the cor-responding “smile face,” indicating their level of enjoyment from one (frown face) to five (smile face). No identifying information was requested for this rating. On leaving the session, children anonymously left their papers in a box retained by the investigator.

The children randomised to the canine-assisted reading program group had a statistically significant improvement in attitudes towards academic reading from pre- to post-intervention, with the results suggesting the intervention may improve attitudes toward academic reading among children who read to a therapy dog. An unexpected result was that reading skills did not improve for either the intervention or control group. One possible explanation given for this was the selection of participants for the study, which included children with average reading skills. However, the results supported the benefits of an animal-assisted intervention for child literacy on children’s attitudes about reading and can inform future programs evaluating reading programs that include dogs.

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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