By Dr. Becker
A new program that helps children improve their reading skills by "teaching" the family dog to read is achieving very impressive results. The program, called 'How Your Dog Can Help Your Child Read, Lead, and Succeed,' is the brainchild of Dr. Lori Friesen.
Before returning to graduate school, Dr. Friesen was an elementary school teacher, and she recognized while teaching second grade that her students had a natural connection with her dog, a Maltese-Poodle mix named Tango. Friesen came up with the idea of "Tango Time" which was one-on-one time that a deserving child got to spend with Tango. The kids earned time with Tango in the classroom's Reading Corner by demonstrating acts of kindness.
According to Friesen in an interview with VetStreet, "Some of the little boys I had a hard time engaging started bringing in books to read to Tango. They would be arguing on the playground about which books she liked the best!"
The Birth of 'How Your Dog Can Help Your Child Read, Lead, and Succeed'
Friesen was so excited about the results of her Tango Time experiment that she opted to pursue a Ph.D. while researching the benefits of animal-assisted reading programs in improving child literacy. She ultimately decided she wanted to create a program more comprehensive than most animal-assisted literacy programs, and so "How Your Dog Can Help Your Child Read, Lead and Succeed" was born.
Rather than work only with unfamiliar dogs, as is the case with most animal-assisted literacy programs, in Friesen's program children are required to read to their own dog five days a week at home. And each week the kids practice a new skill. Friesen builds plenty of fun into the program because she believes children who do things they enjoy are motivated to do more.
"Children's test scores improve when they enjoy doing daily reading at home," says Friesen.
Another primary focus of the program is humane education and safety around dogs. Friesen uses the American Humane Association's "Kids Interacting With Dogs Safely" (KIDS) resource to encourage leadership abilities in the children and inspire confidence in life skills like reading dog body language.
According to Friesen's website:
"'How Your Dog Can Help Your Child Read, Lead, and Succeed' is an 8-week multi-faceted program offering children unique and effective strategies to dramatically improve their reading skills and attitudes, to experience innovative and powerful ways to positively transform their relationships (both human and non-human) through increased empathy and self-esteem, and to help children develop a foundation in leadership skills that will ultimately inspire them to make an influential and positive difference in our world."
Program Teaches Kids 21 Essential Skills and Principles
Friesen's program emphasizes skills in each of three areas: reading, leadership, and success. These include:
7 Core Reading Skills (aligned with Common Core standards in language arts)
- Word study strategies
- Vocabulary development
- Summarize written text
- Activate background knowledge
- Intonation and fluency
- Speaking and listening skills
7 Core Leadership Skills (as defined by the Indus Training and Research Institute)
- The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
- Effective communication
- Making a plan and following it through
- Persistence and determination
7 Core Success Principles (adapted from "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield)
- Take responsibility for your learning
- Believe in yourself
- Take action towards your goals
- Ask for and respect feedback
- Chart your successes
- Live with an attitude of gratitude
- Be a class act: demonstrate empathy and compassion for yourself, others, and all life on this planet.
Furry Family Members Also Benefit from the Program
While Friesen's program is designed for kids, four-legged family members also benefit. Not only do dogs get to spend structured time every day interacting with family members, but according to Friesen, the program also teaches children how to be responsible dog owners, which can go a long way toward preventing dog bites and subsequent relinquishment of pets to shelters.
At the present time, Friesen only offers "How Your Dog Can Help Your Child Read, Lead and Succeed" in the Palm Desert, CA area where she lives. But she is actively seeking ways to make the program available to more schools and humane education organizations in her local area, and then eventually expand it into a program that teachers and humane educators around the globe can use.
The cost of the program is currently $350, but Friesen is raising funds and applying for grants to help lower the cost for families. To learn more about the program, visit Dr. Lori Frisen's website.