A dog doesn’t judge you, doesn’t correct you. He just listens to you. To help young children develop their reading skills, it can become a valuable ally.
For four years, the students of the Montessori school in the Outaouais have had the privilege of reading to Maki, a bouledogue francais, approved by the READ program, who regularly visits them with his teacher, Johanne Demers.
For Dominique Tassé, an undergraduate teacher at the school, the results are very encouraging. “You can’t measure a child’s progress in a scientific way, but there is a real increase in motivation and pleasure in reading,” she argues.
The quiet presence of the french bulldog by their side allows them to practice without embarrassment and stress. In this context, reading becomes almost a game. Children gain confidence and thus increase their ability to learn.
Although the program was initially reserved for children who had more difficulty reading, she had to extend it to all of her students. “Everyone wants to read to Maki, even the nine-year-olds,” said the teacher, visibly excited by the results so far.
Maki and Johanne do voluntary work for the school. They received training from the charity Ottawa Therapy Dog to be able to share the benefits of the READ (reading education assistance dog) program with young, new readers.
A listening dog
Developed in 1999 by the American organization Intermountain Therapy Animals, the program, unique in its kind, relies on the bonds of trust that are naturally forged between a child and an animal to facilitate learning to read.
Ms. Demers and her dog meet one student at a time for 20 minutes. The dog’s role is limited to lying down next to him and letting himself be stroked while being read to him. Is he really listening? If we doubt it, at least the children are convinced of it!
As for Ms. Demers’ role, it is, among other things, to describe the images of the book chosen to increase the chances of success for young readers. Subsequently, she is discreet.
“I intervene as little as possible. When I do, it’s through Maki, ”explains Ms. Demers.
For example, if the child stumbles on a difficult word, she pronounces it while addressing the dog: “Maki, could you help her with this word?” She also happened to explain to a child that the chosen book might be a little too difficult for Maki. The dog thus becomes a very useful intermediary to convey messages to children without undermining their confidence.
The program, which is very popular in English-speaking circles, is still little known in Quebec, perhaps because the training is only given in English. Ms. Demers still hopes that it will spread quickly not only in schools, but also in libraries, to reach as many children as possible.