an exclusive feature by Victoria Waller, Ed.D*
I love dogs. In fact, I love all animals and animal stories, but dogs are my favorite. In the 90’s I had a dog named Kugel, named after a Jewish dish with noodles. She was especially responsive to children. As a teacher I would take her to school and let the kids read books to her. She was especially responsive to children and would even “talk” as they read her a book. When they finished and said, “The End,” she would bark twice. The book would have to be a dog story, of course, but I’ll get to that later.
I saw how this relationship between a child and a pet was one of the most powerful in the world, next to the relationship between a child and a grandparent, of course. The relationship is comforting to the child and can even motivate a child to read or get them to WANT to read a book. During this pandemic our grandchildren are on a computer with school, computer with friends, and need the comfort of a grandparent and a pet to make them feel secure.
No dog in your home or in your grandchild’s home? What about a cat, bird, gerbil, hamster, mouse, or even your grandchild’s favorite stuffie (stuffed animal)? I doubt your grandchild will whine or say “no” to reading if a “pet” is involved.
You explain that there are rules for your grandchild and their pet. Give some examples like the ones below, then have your grandchild create some of their own (the funnier the better). Write them down and have the list put up in their room or playroom, or wherever it can be seen. There are rules for whichever animal or stuffie you’re using and rules for kids.
Suggestions for rules:
Rules for dogs (or pets)…
- No pooping on the carpet.
- Do not chew the books.
- Focus on the story.
- Be a good listener.
- Don’t bark.
- Only lick if the child likes to be licked.
Rules for kids…
- Make sure your dog or pet has pooped and peed before you start reading.
- Make sure you have a treat for your pet.
- Introduce your pet to your grandparent.
- Make sure to show the pet the pictures in the book.
- Be careful your pet doesn’t chew any pages.
I still do this with students I work with because I saw and still see the “magic” that happens when a child holds h/her pet or stuffie and reads to them.
Children who hate reading want to read to a pet. They become confident and HAPPY! (And for sure, we need this now more than ever before!) Children know if they make a mistake when they read, but the pet won’t correct them or make them sound out words. And the child won’t see the frustrated face of a teacher or parent when they don’t know a word.
There are many studies proving what I see happening when a child reads to a pet. The University of California-Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension did a study that concluded that in ten weeks elementary students improved in their fluency in reading by 12% and home-schooled children increased their fluency by 30% by reading to a dog. And, the children felt more confident in their reading skills.
After reading with a pet here are some ideas of activities to do with your grandchild:
- Make up a story using the pet as the main character. Keep all the stories in a folder because children love going back and rereading what they wrote.
- Take pictures of the pet with your iPhone to add to the story.
- Have your grandchild have a birthday party for their pet.
- Find interesting facts about the pet on Google and find books related to their pet. (Remember, pets usually like stories about their species. Dogs do NOT like cat books and hamsters are not very focused!)
- Find easy books like the ones listed below that your grandchild can read to their pet. You can read it first aloud then ask your grandchild to read it.
Google best animal books and let your grandchild pick which one they’d like to read, or want you to read to them.
Here are just a few of my favorites for early readers. (Yes, I prefer dog books!)
Richard Byrne,This Book Just Ate My Dog! (this just might be my all-time favorite)
Mercer Mayer Series: Boy, Dog, Frog (wordless picture books so your grandchild has to supply the words based on the pictures)
Alexandra Day, Carl, the Dog books (also wordless picture books)
Norman Bridwell, Clifford, the Big Red Dog Series
Debra and Sal Barraca, The Adventures of Taxi Dog
P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother?
William Kotzwinkle, Walter, the Farting Dog
Dav Pilkey, DogMan Series
Children gain confidence and companionship from the relationship they have with their pet; you can do some fun activities with reading and writing about their pet, even if it is only a “stuffie.”
*As an educator for over 40 years, Dr. Victoria Waller has taught thousands of students to read and write using their passions and strengths: sharks, roller coasters, rocket science, the Titanic and even Pokemon, to name a few. The children learn to read, but more importantly, “love” to read, which lasts a lifetime!
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