The Launch of How Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed in 1st Grade

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:

10 Animal-Themed Ideas for RAK Week

10 Ways to Inspire Children to Express
Love and Kindness towards Animals

children being kind to animals

Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
–Edmund Burke

We often make the mistake of thinking that kids are “too little” to make a difference, but there is nothing further from the truth. Here are ten fun and engaging ways to help children express love and kindness to animals:

1. Cuddly Book Buddies: If you are a teacher, invite your students to bring a stuffed animal to school to read with a younger grade level. You could arrange for a special visit from your class to another, bringing their pups with them, to snuggle up and read a great book with them. Use this opportunity to plant the seed for children to consider reading with their own animals at home.

2. Give a Little, Get a Lot: Brainstorm a list of things dogs and cats need in their daily lives, and then challenge each child to bring one care item to school (a can of food, a leash for a dog, a cat toy, a tennis ball, a bowl, a blanket, etc.) to create a care package for a local animal shelter. Then involve your class in creating a letter to the animals at the shelter, including a class pic of the kids with their own dogs, and send it to your local shelter. This is such a wonderful way to express compassion for these often very lonely animals.

3. Cook Up Some Goodness: Involve your students in a class cooking project to make dog and cat treats for a local animal rescue group. You can invite each child to bring one ingredient from home to create your masterpiece. Then if possible, actually deliver the treats on a class field trip, along with a class letter to give to the rescue group and its’ animals.

4. Stuffed Buddies for Other Kids: Invite your students to bring a gently-used stuffed animal to school – to donate to a local children’s charity (or even to another school) so they too can have their own reading buddy. Ask each student to write a letter to another child, explaining that this is a new reading buddy for them so they won’t have to be alone as they learn to read.

5. Add a Splash of Creativity and Color: You could have your students create animal-themed bookmarks for a younger class, with each bookmark listing three things kids can do to demonstrate kindness to animals in their lives. You could combine this idea with #1 above to make that experience extra-special!

6. 100 Acts of Kindness: Challenge your students to list 100 kind acts towards animals in their lives for the week. This could mean making sure your pet has clean water every day, offering to take your dog out first thing in the morning, feeding your fish every day, cleaning your hamster’s cage, offering to walk your neighbor’s dog, giving a special treat to your grandma’s cat, or spending extra quality time with your pet this week.

7. Kindness for Animals in Your Community: Cleaning up trash in your neighborhood or even on your school grounds helps to keep both people and animals healthy and safe. Challenge your class to pick up 10 pieces of trash each to help your school stay beautiful and clean, while also preventing animals from eating foil and other items that can be dangerous for them. Remember, animals in the wild do not have doctors or veterinarians to help them if they eat a candy wrapper or some Styrofoam – one way we can help to protect these animals is by cleaning up our trash.

8. Raise a Little Love Money: Hold a “class garage sale” where each child brings in one toy or stuffed animal to donate to the sale, or organize a Valentine’s Day Candy Sale – with all proceeds going towards an animal shelter of their choice!

9. Kindness in Our Everyday Lives: Here’s a great way to encourage children to think about ways they can express simple acts of kindness. In different parts of your classroom, place five poster board signs:
1. Home
2. School
3. Classroom
4. Store
5. Community
Divide your students randomly into five groups, and then have each group brainstorm and list ideas for how they can show kindness to both people and animals in each place. Then come back together as a group to see how many ideas you can generate together. Finally, challenge your students to actually do these acts of kindness over the next week, placing a heart-shaped sticker beside each act of kindness children carry out. ☺

10. Think Beyond Ourselves: Challenge your students to think big about ways they can continue to help animals in their lives, such as asking for donations for an animal rescue group for their next birthday party instead of asking for gifts. There are some wonderful examples of how other children have done this on the Humane Society of the United States website at: http://www.humanesociety.org/parents_educators/kids/kids/.

You might also want to consider subscribing to the Humane Society magazine, Kind News (http://www.humanesociety.org/news/magazines/kind_news/) , which features child heroes for animals.

Download your free “Outstanding Kindness to Animals” certificate for your students now 🙂

Certificate

 

“Just” Stuffed Animals?

IMG_1343When I first designed this program for classrooms to help children learn to demonstrate more kindness and compassion towards dogs while also teaching them to read, I received some skepticism because these were “just” stuffed animals. Even the children themselves, just before they received their new adopted little buddies, were asking when the real dogs were coming to visit the classroom.

But then the children each received and named their dogs, and made them their own name tags and collars. They began to cuddle and pet their dogs as they participated in lessons. They turned their dog to face the book so their dog could “see” the pictures as they read, and they practiced their spelling words with them, lovingly patting their dog on their head.

IMG_1363We are now mid-way through the program, and today was Crazy Hat Day, so of course all of the children ran over to where I was, asking to have their pictures taken with their dogs and their Crazy Hats (pictured above on the left). And then I realized that it wasn’t just hats that these dogswere wearing – many of them had their very own outfits. I asked the teacher about this.

“Well, I’m not sure how it started, exactly,” she said, shaking her head with a smile on her face, “But before I knew it, they were all going to the dollar store and buying dolls just for the clothes – then throwing the dolls away so they could dress up their dogs!”

The bond that these children have formed with their dogs is clear by the way they nurture them, talk to them, cuddle with them, and care for them. As was so eloquently expressed by Alan T. Beck:

“Companion animals are our children’s children.

The best thing we can do for our
children is to help them be better parents.”

IMG_1366Especially for children who are unable to have a pet of their own due to allergies, family financial challenges or family circumstances, having a little stuffed animal to love and care for can offer valuable lessons for children. Young children are rarely in the role of nurturer or “caring for” (instead of being cared for), and pets (both real and imagined to be real) can provide valuable opportunities for children to learn responsibility, empathy, and compassion.

IMG_1371Research suggests that young children have one foot permanently placed in reality and the other in imagination. What a wonderful gift for a young child to know that such an unconditional and loving friend exists for them when they are at school; a place where teachers have been warned against hugs, yet a place where so many children desperately need this form of comfort. I wonder if these kids would describe these dogs as “just” stuffed animals to them?