It may sound bizarre, the thought of animals encouraging children to read. Yet the PAWS for Reading Program knows furry friends make good listeners for some timid readers.
Coming to West Deptford Free Public Library, the PAWS for Reading Program will set up about six teams throughout the library—each team consisting of one animal and one handler. During this time, children can sit with a team and read aloud to the animal.
“It seems like such a great way for kids to feel free and easy about it,” says Diane Maher, head children’s librarian.
Unlike reading in a classroom in front of peers and a teacher, Maher explains that reading to an animal dispels many anxieties new readers may have. With an animal, the child doesn’t have to fear them interrupting or trying to correct them if they make a mistake. Instead, they are free to read at their pace to a judgment-free companion.
“It really boosts their confidence and how they feel about reading,” says Maher.
PAWS for Reading is operated through PAWS for People—a Delaware based nonprofit organization that brings well-trained pets not only to children, but to also to the elderly and disabled. PAWS for Reading is only one of their programs; the teams serve in a range of capacities—visiting hospitals, Alzheimer’s units and schools in an effort to a provide therapeutic experience to each individual.
Currently, there are 35 teams in the New Jersey branch of PAWS for People. Most of the pets who participate are dogs, yet there are a few cats and even some rabbits—all of which have completed their STEX training and certification.
New Jersey Coordinator for PAWS for People Sharon Bednar compares STEX training closely to the canine good citizen test—apart from the separation portion. Training consists of two four-hour days and includes taking the animals into a hospital setting in order to acclimate to the different settings. However, she adds training and tests are modified for certain cases—such as the rabbits.
PAWS for People’s first visit will be on Feb. 13, but as Bednar explains it’s more so to get the pets acclimated to their surroundings. The programs will official kick off on Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. Ready to party, Bendar says they will be there with snacks, goodie bags and pets in party hats.
Following that, the library will hold PAWS for Reading every second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. Parents are asked to call the library in advance to register each child in order to schedule a reading slot. Each child will have five to 10 minutes to read to a pet, but are free to move on to another availble animal after they are finished.
“We’re not teaching them to read, we’re encouraging them to read, and what better way than with multiple pets,” says Bednar.
She adds that as long as her handlers are willing to stay, children are welcomed to read to their pet.
To register for PAWS for Reading, call the library at 856-845-5593.