In the most deprived areas of Scotland in 2018, just 59% of P7 pupils met the expected standards in literacy. This compared to 83% in the most affluent communities. The David Doig Foundation awarded Canine Concern Scotland grant funding to bolster their Reading with Dogs programme. This fascinating programme was established to help young children feel more confident reading.
Children are encouraged to read aloud to dogs – who are never judgemental or critical – so they feel less self-conscious and stressed as they practise. This comforting environment helps the children feel at ease and nurtures a love of reading, with many becoming more willing to read at home. Quantitative evaluation has already demonstrated positive evidence of the impact on reading skills, showing the reading ages of children who participated improved on average by just over six months in a six week block of lessons.
At Wallace Well Primary School, Robroyston, children read to Willow, an Old English Sheepdog - an undeniably friendly audience. Since introducing Willow to their pupils, teachers have seen notable improvements in reading ability, as well as increased focus and confidence when reading aloud in class. Not surprisingly, Willow is a welcome visitor and the pupils look forward to reading with her. She’s become very much a part of school life. ‘It’s the only day my daughter willingly wants to come to school,’ said one parent. ‘My son smiles and is happy – he is over the moon. After school he comes home and talks to me all about it, without me having to ask questions,’ said another.
With the support of the David Doig funding, Canine Concern were able to achieve an expansion of their school visits and Reading With Dogs in Glasgow, with 19 volunteers supporting 3,243 children in 23 schools via school visits and reading sessions. 3 new Glasgow schools also took part in the project.
For example, Laura, 11, had extremely low self-esteem before taking part in the programme, and was not confident with reading out loud. She was not used to getting praise at home, and she particularly struggled with learning to break up words in order to read them. In Reading With Dogs sessions, Laura learned to break up the words and talk with the volunteer, and received praise for her efforts which helped her became more confident and happier, and she became very comfortable in the presence of the volunteer and the dog. Her teacher reported that she was much happier in school in general, with the sessions having an overall positive impact on her wellbeing in class. Now Laura says that her Reading With Dogs sessions are her favourite time of the week!
It’s safe to say that Reading with Dogs is a resounding success, resulting in children’s enjoyment and confidence in reading – and a fun day out for Willow and her companions across Scotland.