Local children overcome fear of reading aloud with the help of canines
Once, when called upon during class in the second grade, I remember telling my teacher that I didn’t know how to read. She later contacted my family, rather perplexed, at which point the jig was up and I had to admit to everyone the actual truth: like many children, I was just not comfortable reading out loud.
Today, literacy is a very big issue in the United States. Kids are encouraged to read less and less, and instead are allowed to utilize interactive video games and watch TV. For that reason, I was relieved to find out about Santa Cruz Public Libraries’ admirable commitment to literacy within the community, despite budget cuts.
Each branch of the Santa Cruz Public Library promotes reading through various projects and events throughout the year. However, the recently developed “Tales to Tails” program—first implemented in the Capitola branch in January by staff member Melanee Barash, and overseen by Manager Jane O’Driscoll—is particularly noteworthy. This program, which has been implemented nationwide for quite some time, allows children between age 5 and 12 or in elementary school, who are not comfortable reading aloud, to practice in front of non-judgmental dogs, and sometimes cats, once a month.
Participants are allowed to bring their own books or browse for new ones at the library. Each dog and cat—which are all certified for therapy in hospitals or nursing homes via Furry Friends Pet Assisted Therapy Services—is handled by a volunteer who accompanies the animal. Given the shy nature of many children in the program, Barash describes her presence as, “available but not overbearing.”
“It’s been shown that animals can help make us calmer, lower our blood pressure and relax us,” says Barash. “Especially for kids who have anxiety, these animals can have a calming influence.”
And she says the results are undeniable. “Because this program has been happening for a while, they have found that it has worked,” says Barash. “Kids become better readers because they read out loud. Many kids will practice reading at home by themselves in order to read better aloud to the dogs when they visit the library. This program allows children to get excited about reading.”
It seems literacy may have an optimistic future, after all, as “Tales to Tails” has recently spread to the Felton library and will soon be employed in the downtown branch. The Capitola library averages about 30 kids a month. Barash says most participants find out by word-of-mouth, from other families, or from teachers who recommend the program.
Reading aloud may be the program’s primary goal, but Barash says the program has other benefits too—particularly for children who are afraid of dogs. In April, a young girl who had a traumatic experience with a dog was encouraged to attend the program by her mother. The girl started off with a small, older and mellow dog, from which she hesitantly sat five feet away. “But by the end of the session, she pet the dog,” Barash says. “And the next time she came in, she walked right up to another dog and pet him.”
To set up a 20 minute appointment with, “Tales to Tails,” or for more information, please contact Melanie Barash, at 427-7706 x 7672.
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