Kids, Dogs and Books are What It’s All About

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Contributed by Prince William County

Prince William County SealKids, dogs and books are what it’s all about during “Reading with Rover” days and “Saturdays with Sophie,” two programs at the Chinn Park Regional Library that allow children to read to dogs in a fun, relaxed environment. Parents and their children usually get to the library early in anticipation of the arrival of the dogs.

Librarian Jane Drabkin facilitates the program and puts out books about dogs before the children arrive. She said studies show that children are less inhibited about reading when there’s a dog around.  “What they have discovered is that children who read to dogs don’t feel any pressure. When they read to the dog, they’re relaxed. There’s no one there who is going to correct them or provide any stress, so it’s very relaxing for the children. They can just work through what they’re reading and you can see them gaining more fluency as they go.”

Elisa Engstrom recently brought her 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, to a “Reading with Rover” for the first time and said Elizabeth had been looking forward to the afternoon. “This morning she was pretending like she was a dog.”

Donna Conti comes to the library every other Saturday with her Brittany spaniel, Sophie, for “Saturdays with Sophie” and said she gets regular readers along with new children every week. The program is also aimed at getting children who aren’t familiar with dogs acclimated to the idea that dogs can be friendly and fun. Sophie has some success with that. “One month, every reader was afraid of dogs, but it was awesome because by the end, they were loving and kissing on her.”

Richard Grauel and his daughter, Hope, bring Punky, a mellow, well-behaved, yellow Labrador retriever, to “Reading with Rover” on alternate Thursdays and said the dogs are a big attraction for the children.

“The kids sit around and learn about dogs, because after we read, I talk to them about what it’s like to have a dog at home,” said Grauel, a member of “People. Animals. Love.” (PAL). “The kids just like to come and pet the dogs. They like to learn about the dogs, as well as read to them.”

Hope Grauel echoed Drabkin and said she notices that children block out the rest of the world when there’s a dog around. “I think it helps because we’ve had some kids who were just learning or trying to get to a higher level of reading. I think normally they’d be kind of afraid to read out loud, but because there’s a dog there they pet the dog and don’t even think about it. They still trip over some words, but they’re getting the words out.”

Denise Green recently brought a group of her day care wards to visit with Punky and said the children couldn’t talk about anything else on the morning before they were to visit the library. “They were excited when we talked about reading to the dog. I think it’s a great program.”

Four-year-old Maddie Mathers recently visited Sophie with her mother, Shelley Mathers, who saw the program as another opportunity to get Maddie interested in reading. “Anything that gets her interested in books – we thought this would be a sure-fire thing.”

By the end of the end of the “Reading with Rover” session, Engstrom was persuaded of the program’s efficacy and Grauel’s approach. “It’s an opportunity to be with the dog and for her to practice her reading out loud. At home, sometimes I have a hard time getting her to speak up, and he was able to get her to speak up. I think it’s great. We’re definitely going to come back and do it again.”

For more program schedules and information, call 703-792-4800.


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