There are few things children will do only when they feel like doing it, no matter how persistently adults insist on it. Reading is one of them.
Just like a child won’t fall asleep because a parent tells him to, and will not eat if not hungry, a child will also not start reading just because he turned six. All adults can do is provide the best environment for the sleeping, the eating and the reading to happen. And then wait.
The Pasadena Humane Society’s Barks and Book program does just that, offering children an opportunity to read aloud stories of their choosing to dogs. It happened last Saturday at the Linda Vista Library in Pasadena and it made Lila Friedlander’s day.
“Does Ernie like books with rhymes?” asked 7-year-old Lila to Ernie’s handler, Brenda Trainor.
Ernie is a white 11-year-old dog, trained by her owner Trainor but also naturally inclined to behave calmly around kids. “He just likes being with people,” Trainor said while the dog waited patiently for some kids to join him on the library rug.
When Lila entered the library, she recognized him right away. “He’s my favorite!” she screamed, and ran to choose a book. Finally, she sat down next to the dog on the rug, and read aloud for the next fifty minutes.
One of the main goals of Barks and Books, a program available in eighteen libraries around Pasadena (you can look at the schedule here), is to boost confidence in children ages 5 to 12 while making reading fun.
“Some kids have very low confidence in reading and about themselves,” first grade teacher at La Canada Elementary, Jan Rappleye, said. “They are a little weary about reading out loud to adults and to other children because they are afraid they are going to be judged.”
Rappleye brings her own dog— a three-year- old black Labrador called Elliot —-to her classroom from time to time because she noticed that kids that have trouble reading aloud, “are far more willing to reach to a dog that to a human being that they feel is being judgemental.”
According to Marcia Invernizzi, a reading-education professor at the University of Virginia, reading aloud is crucial for beginner readers because children, as she explained in an article in the Washington Post, sound out letters and recognize words when they hear them.
“If Ernie wasn’t here,” Pasadena Humane Society education programs coordinator, Kim Tripp said, “Maybe Lila wouldn’t be as excited to come to the library and read. She’s having fun, and not even realizing she’s actually building her reading skills.”
By now Lila knows all of the dogs in the program. Her mother started taking her to Barks and Dogs events guessing it could make the difference. Lila started loving dogs at the same time when she started giving her mother a hard time about learning to read.
“I thought, wait a second, I should combine the two, something she loves and something she says she hates to do,” Lila’s mother Leslie Brichaux said.
It worked, and since then they have kept showing up. Lila now knows the program’s schedule by heart. “There is one coming up this coming Thursday, it will be at the Pasadena Central Library. Gracey will be there, she’s a golden retriever. I’m going,” Lila said.
The Linda Vista Library in Pasadena is planning something different for Dec.1. Instead of reading to a dog, children will find a friendly cat, Tomas, to read to.
The Pasadena Humane Society will bring four therapy dogs to PCC’s campus on Dec. 12 and 13. They will be there from 11a.m. to 1 p.m. in the main quad to help students relieve any excessive stress caused by their final exams.