Paws to R.E.A.D. is a Reading Education Assistance Dog® program managed by Sprite’s HERO, Inc. and affiliated with the Intermountain Therapy Animals R.E.A.D. program started in 1999 in Salt Lake City, UT.
The mission of the Paws to R.E.A.D. program:
To improve and enrich the literacy skills of children through the individual assistance of registered Reading Education Assistance Dogs® and handlers (R.E.A.D.® teams) as literacy mentors.
Paws to R.E.A.D. volunteer therapy dogs and owner/handlers are scheduled to visit schools, libraries and other facilities to provide one-on-one tutoring to children not currently reading at grade level. The nonjudgmental nature of the dogs lowers the stress of the reading process and allows the children to both enjoy reading and improve their reading skill. This service is offered at no cost to facilities.
In the R.E.A.D. setting, therapy dogs act as catalysts, allowing the child to feel more comfortable and focus more on the task at hand. The owner/handlers are facilitators, interpreting their dog’s reactions to the stories they are listening to.
BUT WHY DOGS?
Learning to read is often less about intellectual limitation than about overcoming fears. Animals are ideal reading companions because they:
- Help increase relaxation and lower blood pressure
- Listen attentively
- Do not judge, laugh, or criticize
- Allow children to proceed at their own pace
- Are less intimidating than peers
When a R.E.A.D. dog is listening, the environment is transformed, a child’s dread is replaced by eager anticipation, and learning occurs. The handler is a skilled facilitator, too – shifting performance pressure off the child and providing support, while the child gets the supervised reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase understanding of the material, and gain fluency as a reader.
(Yes, cats can be R.E.A.D. partners also, we just don’t have any right now!)
SPRITE’S HERO PAWS TO R.E.A.D.
Sprite’s HERO, Inc. currently has 19 R.E.A.D. teams. We have four retired dogs and have lost 13 canine partners over the years. In 2015 we are tutoring readers in 7 elementary schools, 16 public libraries, the Richmond SPCA, and provide other special presentations in multiple facilities.
These children have improved their enjoyment of reading, their relationships with dogs, and their confidence and reading skills. We have conducted research with Randolph Macon College, published in 2012, regarding children’s relationships with reading and dogs, and have begun studies to gather skill based data from our elementary school programs.
One parent noted that her child no longer required remedial reading help in the fall because she read to a dog at the library all summer. Another mentioned her autistic son started picking up books at home to read, something he had not done before.
Schools can see reading scores improve up to 2 grades for children who read to a R.E.A.D. dog for 20 minutes per week every week for the school year. This was noted by one of our participating schools in 2014.
Schools may also see a reduction in absenteeism with the reading children because they don’t want to miss their R.E.A.D. dog day. They can also develop better relationships with their own dogs and other pets in their homes.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Sprite’s HERO, Inc. is in need of more registered therapy dog/handler teams to visit the growing list of facilities requesting the Paws to R.E.A.D. program. Visit our VOLUNTEER page to learn how to become a registered therapy team and a Sprite’s HERO volunteer.
We manage and grow the program with the help of generous donations from our community. We also provide rewards to our readers for their continued progress. Visit our SUPPORT page to learn how you can support children in our community.