When I was teaching elementary school, parents often asked me two questions:
- How can I get my child to read more?
- How can I get my child to actually enjoy reading?
My program, How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom, answers both of these questions. Having taught elementary students for over two decades and completing my PhD in education, here’s what I know for sure about children:
- Kids just want to have fun.
- When they are having fun, they want to do more of whatever it is they’re doing.
Let’s break this down. What does a child mean when they say an activity is “fun?” Think of the last time your child described something this way, such as playing their favorite game. Often, when children use the word “fun,” they mean:
- I feel happy.
- I feel confident.
- I feel challenged, though safe enough to take risks.
- I can be successful and set my own pace.
- I have the freedom to make choices.
- I feel loved, secure, and connected to others.
So what does that have to do with reading, you might ask? Well, in the most recent NAEP (National Association for Educational Progress) survey, researchers found that children who read for fun read more often and enjoy much higher scores in national test results in reading. It all begins with fun. When we enjoy doing something—whether it be participating in a particular sport or hobby—we find ways to fit it into our lives, and we find ways to practice it and therefore become better at it. It’s really no different with reading. The problem is that too often at school, we have made reading practice feel more like “it’s time to take your medicine” rather than “it’s time to play video games.” When designing my program, I asked myself: How can I help children to enjoy reading, and therefore choose to read more often—to read for FUN—especially when they are surrounded by high-stimulus, exciting options like video games and movies? I created a learning system that allows children to have fun in the way children understand it: feeling happy and confident, being challenged but safe enough to take risks, learning at their instructional reading level while reading text of their choice, all the while feeling loved and in connection with others. How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom helps the struggling reader re-define their experience of reading. As one parent whose son participated in my program this fall said to me: “Reading with Diego used to feel like pulling teeth. He hated it and saw it as work, something he couldn’t do well and didn’t have any interest in. But now, he brings books to read to me, and has recently asked me to help him read chapter books! It’s all because he sees that he can do it now and that reading can be fun.” – Catherine, Parent Participant 110 children who participated in this program answered survey questions about their experience:
94% of the children said that reading with their stuffed dog at school made them feel happier and more confident about reading.
99% of the children said that they enjoyed participating in this program.
87% said that they enjoyed doing the weekly BoneWork (homework) assignments. (When was the last time your child said they enjoyed doing homework in a subject area they had previously struggled with?)
98% said that they think kids in other schools should do this program.
In the next five articles, I will share the five core elements of the program that not only made reading fun, but helped all the children make great gains in their reading progress. In the meantime, click here to read more about what teachers are saying about this program! With joy, Dr. Lori “The ability to read is one of the skills most highly correlated with success in life—yet by first grade, many children already lag behind. Thankfully, Dr. Lori Friesen has discovered an innovative way to get kids interested and excited about reading at the second-grade level, demonstrating the potential to lift our educational system to a whole new level. Improving reading skills and teaching kids how to love and care for animals—Dr. Lori, you’re brilliant!”
—Jennifer Read Hawthorne, coauthor, Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul
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