News | 18 October 2023
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Young ones reading to dogs does the trick

Local tamariki and rangatahi who find it difficult to read out loud in front of people can practise their reading skills with a new audience – a kurī of their choosing!

Read to Kurī programme at the library . A young girl reading next to a dog.

A new Wellington City Libraries initiative gives children the chance to have a 15 minute one-on-one relaxing reading session with a trained therapy dog from Canine Friends Pet Therapy. The dog’s handlers are present at all times.

They get the choice of reading to a range of pups including Archie, a six-year-old schnoodle that loves people, or Zibu, a King Charles Cavalier, Miniature poodle, and Bichon Frisé mix who specialises in assisting students and those who may have a fear of canines.

 Tamariki can bring in their favourite book or pick one with help from a librarian before they curl up with a kurī to practice their reading, says Libraries Children’s and Youth Services Coordinator Stephen Clothier. 

“The aim is to help tamariki improve their literacy, self-confidence, and self-esteem in a relaxed and non-judgemental environment – after all, a dog won’t laugh at you or judge you if you don’t know how to pronounce a certain word, or if you trip up over your sentences.”

There is a lot of research into the benefits of reading to and with companion animals, Stephen says.

“It brings a lot of comfort for tamariki. It also helps to raise awareness and community understanding of the important work done by therapy dogs and other animals – it’s a wonderful opportunity to see first-hand the impacts that these kinds of collaborations can have. Plus, it’s just nice for tamariki to be able to hang out with a cute, well-trained doggo at the library.” 

Read to Kurī programme at the library . A young girl reading next to a dog.

Stephen says that taking the reading out of school and into a library is also said to help make the experience less stressful for children.

“The physical environment is an important factor – by running this programme in a community venue like a library, rather than in a school, we are nullifying at least some of the innate anxiety-increasing associations that some learners experience when they are doing literacy in a formal learning environment like a classroom.”

The team ran a trial with 16 bookable spots at Kilbirnie Library and all slots were booked out by the end of the day, says Stephen.

“The feedback from tamariki and their parents has been really positive – I’ve personally received several messages of thanks from parents, and there was a real buzz in the library both days that the programme was on, with curious onlookers and excited children all thoroughly enjoying the experience. 

“For one of our doggy friends, Archie, it was his first public experience as a therapy dog, and by all accounts he also had a fabulous time!”

Based on the success of the first trial at Te Awa-a-Taia Ruth Gotlieb (Kilbirnie) Library, the Read to Kurī programme will continue throughout term four after school on Thursdays. Anyone can book in a time with Archie or Zibu and their wonderful handlers Penny Griffith and Xanthia Freer to practice their reading and make a very good new friend in the process! Visit the Wellington City Libraries blog to find out more, and to book your slot.