Puppies Provide Captive Audience for Reading Practice

A pile of storybooks fans out across the floor. Students stream into the room and eagerly choose one to read out loud – to dogs.

Hardin Intermediate School Principal Melanie Lewis first started getting questions about reading to dogs after her students watched a news story about kids in St. Louis who volunteered to visit an animal shelter and read to the dogs there. Mrs. Lewis’ students were convinced she needed to take them to St. Louis.

“They felt the dogs really needed them,” Mrs. Lewis said.

Some of Mrs. Lewis’s students felt so convicted by the idea, they wrote persuasive essays and asked if they could take a field trip to Missouri. They pointed out how the act of service fit the school’s year-long campaign focusing on being kind.

“My inbox was filled with essays, and I was so moved. I said let me see if there’s any program like that in the area,” Mrs. Lewis said.

During her research, Mrs. Lewis discovered the Duncanville Library partners with two local therapy dog groups to host weekend sessions allowing children to practice their reading skills. Mrs. Lewis invited the dogs and their handlers from Therapy Dogs International and Alliance of Therapy dogs to come to Hardin to allow her students to read to them.

The students, selected from each of the fifth grade classes, welcomed the opportunity to pet, snuggle and talk to their four-legged friends.

“I like it because I like comforting the dogs,” said Marquesha White. “It makes them feel loved.”

Mrs. Lewis said her students are learning many lessons while reading to the therapy dogs. The students may not even realize that while giving love and attention to their new friends, they’re improving their reading fluency, stamina and comprehension.

“They take their time reading to the dogs,” Mrs. Lewis said. “They get animated and become the characters in the books, and if they mess up on a word, they really try to get it right and keep on going.”