Looking back, it’s hard to believe that How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom began as an eight-week after-school program with only four children. As I’ve grown and expanded this program to become a full-year school curriculum for 2nd grade, it wasn’t long before teachers and parents began asking, “Why isn’t there a program like this for 1st grade?”
My answer? The reality is that I was so deeply grateful and surprised by the amazing results we were getting with the 2nd grade program that I wondered how on earth I would ever come up with something that could even remotely compare to it for 1st grade.
I struggled with this for a long time as I visited 1st grade classrooms, marveling at the imaginations of six-year-old children and working to understand how their minds worked, what they loved, what made their eyes light up and say, “Oh I love this! More, please!”
I struggled with what exactly might capture these children’s imaginations and hearts, while developing an innovative and solid curriculum that would meet Common Core Standards in English Language Arts.
I pondered this, that is, until sweet Dozer visited my imagination on my morning walk one day. The idea for Dozer came to me with startling clarity, and I fell in love with him instantly. And then his story tumbled out of my mind faster than I can even describe it. That’s when I knew I needed 1st grade children to help him to solve his big problem…
On Monday morning, January 9, 2017, nearly 500 children will meet sweet Dozer in classrooms across the Coachella Valley in our first pilot of this exciting program.
One adorable, plush Dozer will arrive in classrooms as a surprise gift for each class of students, along with his shiny, red Doggone Awesome Puppy Postal Service Mailbox and a mysterious letter, letting the students know that he has lost his family in an earthquake.
Would they be willing to help him by going on an adventure around the world with his two best friends, Buddy and Daisy, to solve the mystery of where in the world his family has gone?
The students won’t be alone in solving this mystery, of course! With the help of super under-cover animal agents from the C.A.R.E. (Compassionate, Appreciative, Responsible, and Encouraging) Animal Team from around the world, the students will receive videos from Dr. Lori, Buddy, and Daisy, viewed on Dozer’s Doggy Detective Video Blog, to learn clues that will help them to solve this mystery.
What does this have to do with literacy, you ask? Well, although dogs are very, very cute, the problem is that they have a really hard time with reading and writing. 🙂 Each letter the students receive via the Doggone Awesome Puppy Postal Service from Buddy or Daisy is riddled with punctuation, capitalization, and spelling errors. Once the students re-write each letter to help them fix their mistakes and fill in the missing letters, a secret word is revealed that tells the students which country they will be exploring next for clues!
Once students unlock the mystery of the next country they will visit, they fill in a graphic organizer for each country while watching a video with Dr. Lori and Buddy or Daisy from Dozer’s Doggy Detective Video Blog. As they view the video, students chart information about “What can we see? What can we do? What do they speak? What do they eat?” in each amazing country.
Then, students learn three new clues about which country they think Dozer’s family might be in next. After students make predictions about which country they think Dozer’s family could be in based on the new clues, they use Doggy Detective Magnifying Glasses to find the country using a world map.
This first grade adventure is designed to teach the writing process in a fun and meaningful way. The graphic organizers serve as pre-writing for related writing projects for each country. For example, after visiting Mexico with Daisy to discover more clues, the students create flip-books to plan what they would see, do, and pack for a trip to Mexico. Students participate in drafting, revising and editing, publishing, and of course, Author’s Chair with Dozer.
Throughout the entire program, students learn important lessons about respect and compassion for animals around the world as they learn alongside Buddy and Daisy in each incredible country they visit.
Students learn how to care for their own pets with kindness and compassion, and learn about larger issues such as how the growing global population affects the homes of animals and the health of our oceans.
Meanwhile, parents are included throughout the entire program with weekly at-home Doggy Detective Challenges in which Dozer challenges the students to read for 30 minutes each week and learn five new sight words. Parents are provided with weekly tips, ideas, and strategies for how to practice sight words with their children at home, as well as a weekly strategy for how to help their child in reading.
When students bring their completed Doggy Detective Challenge back to school each week, the students earn a paw print on Dozer’s Special Surprises! chart in a group effort to earn a class reward from Dozer and their teacher. What a fun way to encourage the home-school connection, all while supporting parents to help their children in literacy!
At the end of the program, of course, Dozer finds his family (but the location is top secret information)! The only problem is – his family is at an animal shelter, and there are all of these other pups who need good homes… so would each child be willing to “foster” and then “adopt” one plush dog each when they come back to school in 2nd grade?
When students come back to school in the fall, their new adventure begins….!
Needless to say, I guess I didn’t have to worry about coming up with ideas to motivate and inspire children in 1st grade. I can’t wait to share the results and feedback from teachers, parents, and kiddos in the spring!
To learn more about this program and get your school involved, click on the links below:
Check out what Tony Knapp, Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction for Palm Springs Unified School District, has to say about How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in the Classroom:
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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