Dogs can encourage anyone to read. I’ve seen it. Dogs won’t correct you when you read a word wrong. Dogs won’t walk away because they have something better to do. Dogs won’t tell you to pick a different book because it’s not their favorite or it’s not the right level. What they will do is listen. Dogs also bring a sense of calm and comfort that sets the mood for an enjoyable reading experience. A new experience like this brings excitement, and with that excitement brings confidence and motivation to read.
Back by popular demand, our library will be hosting our second session of Read to Rover: A Special Needs Storytime Program. This program invites children ages 5 and up for an afternoon of stories and structured play time with 3 special guest therapy dogs. While all our youth programs are, of course, open to the public, this particular storytime is specially designed for children with special needs and our furry four-legged friends.
So what makes this program so special? It starts with the perfect pooch. While therapy dogs may come in many breeds, I’ve found that our young patrons with special needs are particularly drawn to Leonbergers. Their size might be intimidating at first (they aren’t named after lions for nothing), but these dogs are as gentle as teddy bears. Children love lying on and snuggling up to the dogs providing them with a more up-close and personal experience. And with these massive dogs, there’s plenty of real estate to go around. The occasional tail pulling–though not encouraged–doesn’t even faze them. Be prepared for a lot of shedding, but this breed also happens to have a dry mouth and doesn’t drool. An added plus!
Another piece of this puzzle is a highly structured format. Utilizing tools like picture schedules and transition cards builds confidence and fosters independence when switching between different activities and different dogs. Consider using a sign that says “Dog Time” within your visual schedule and counting down the minutes until transition. This will give children a more clear sense of expectations and limitations. Add pictures of the dogs around the room and have the children “check in” to each station with transition cards by matching their dog card to the larger picture of the same image and begin playing. Velcro works wonders for something like this. Then, add a few of your favorite doggy tales, like Bark George by Jules Fieffer or Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd. Don’t forget a few songs to sing along to, and you’ve got yourself a program!
If you want to develop a program with therapy dogs at your library, reach out to the special education teachers in your community. Teachers may already be utilizing therapy dogs in their classrooms and could connect you with some local organizations. Don’t forget to network with neighboring school districts to help promote the program. You may be surprised how many parents will register their children when they hear the Library let the dogs out…
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.