Dogs help kids with reading skills
FRISCO – Chances are, you’ll never find your dog snuggled up with a copy of “War and Peace,” but that doesn’t mean she can’t help others hone their ABCs. Through a new program at Frisco Elementary School, two local dogs are doing just that.Alma, a 2-year-old black lab, and Elway, a golden retriever, spend about an hour each week listening intently as first graders sound out their vowels and narrate the underwater adventures of SpongeBob SquarePants.”From a teacher’s perspective, I see it reinforcing that they’re making wonderful progress in reading,” said first-grade teacher Marguerite Ritchey. “It gives the students another place to showcase their reading.”During the one-hour visits, students take turns sitting with either Alma or Elway and their handlers, Susan Alderman and Carol Padlick, both of Silverthorne. A child plops down on a blanket with one of the dogs and reads aloud with a furry muzzle in his or her lap.Alderman and Padlick follow along, offering a little help when it’s needed.Ritchey said students’ literacy skills benefit from any exposure to reading, whether they’re reading aloud, reading by themselves or being read to. And dogs serve as nonjudgmental listeners that get children excited about practicing, she said. “They love the comfort level the dogs provide – being able to touch them and being able to tell them anything they want. If they blow it, the dog never gets mad,” Ritchey said.On a recent Wednesday, 7-year-old Ashley Smith cracked open a few books as Alma patiently looked on. Ashley’s time with Alma has her preferring canine audiences over humans.”It’s fun,” she said. “Sometimes they lick you, and sometimes they just sit next to you and listen and look at the pictures.”Both Alma and Elway are certified therapy dogs with the necessary qualifications and training to perform their work. Alderman said she is looking to expand the pool of local dogs who can participate in the program so she can arrange visits to additional classrooms,”There are probably a lot of well-mannered dogs out there with good owners,” Alderman said. “They should have all the basic obedience skills: sitting, staying, being touched in lots of ways by little hands.”Alderman hopes to recruit at least five dog owners and then set up a workshop on reading therapy certification, during which an observer evaluates a dog’s behavior and ability to deal with distractions in various settings.Vail, Colorado
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