The South Coastal Library will be hosting an ongoing event once a month to help encourage children to read, with the help of a friendly dog.
PAWS for Reading is a program under Pet-Assisted Visitation Volunteer Services, or PAWS for People, a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization whose mission is to lovingly provide elders, children, and folks with disabilities individualized, therapeutic visits with a gentle, affectionate pet.
“It’s for all ages,” explained Nicole Davis, program support specialist at PAWS for People. “We work with children who are just beginning to read. We work with students who know how to read but may be struggling, we work with adults who are struggling or ESL students.”
The PAWS for Reading program will be available to children at the South Coastal Library on Nov. 18 and Dec. 16 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Those who are interested in having their children participate must register in advance.
Davis said the PAWS for Reading program is unique in that each child that participates will be attended to on an individual basis.
“It’s one-on-one, so we don’t go into a classroom full of children or a group at a library. It’s individualized. The children sit on a blanket with the dog, their therapy companion and their handler,” she explained. “The main purpose of it is the dog won’t judge someone reading. It gives the person the confidence to be able to read with out corrections, so they aren’t so nervous.”
The program is designed to offer a reading experience that caters to the individual child, while using a therapy dog’s help.
“The dog is used as an icebreaker or a mediator for the reading. It gives them the confidence to sit down and feel like they’re teaching the dog how to read. It’s used as a tool for, if a child is struggling with a work, the handler will say ‘I think Sunny [the dog] thinks that word is, whatever that word might be.’ It gives them a way to not feel like we’re reprimanding them while they’re reading.”
Davis said the dogs who are the reading companions and their handlers have to complete 12-hours of training. She added that at other sites where the program is offered kids may also read to rabbits or cats.
She added that reading is a lifelong skill that PAWS hopes to help promote to children of all ages.
“It’s something you need everyday of your life,” said Davis. “Starting at a young age of your life with the first steps of wanting to read, versus making it some sort of punishment or taking something that’s hard and embarrassing for them. Starting it off early, teaching that it’s okay to make mistakes but it’s something that with practice it’ll give them a good base for future learning.”
PAWS is looking to expand in the Sussex County area and those who have dogs who would be interested in becoming a part of the therapy team may fill out an application by visiting the organization’s website.
The more people we get, the more we can offer,” she said.
For more information on PAWS for Reading, visit www.pawsforpeople.org or call (302) 351-5622. The South Coastal Library is located at 43 Kent Ave. in Bethany Beach. To schedule an appointment with PAWS for Reading at the library, call (302) 539-5231.