(Republished from Druid City Living, March 2017)
Meet Libby, a beautiful, former Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter dog, who accompanies her human, Mary Calhoun, all over Tuscaloosa County listening to students read. Calhoun, a retired elementary school teacher, brings Libby to schools each Wednesday where readers receive stickers that say, “I read to a dog today and I liked it”.
They also receive Metro Animal Shelter pencils and a book about dogs for their classroom library. Recently, Libby paid a visit to Rock Quarry Elementary School.
How do students benefit from reading to a dog? Libby’s purpose is to provide a relaxed atmosphere that encourages students to practice reading aloud. When children have difficulties reading, they often develop a lack of self-confidence and are reluctant to read to others. By sitting down next to a dog and reading to a dog, all threats of being judged disappear. The child relaxes, pets the attentive dog, and focuses on reading. Students improve their reading skills, build self-esteem and associate reading with something fun.
Improving reading skills is the major benefit of the program but there are other benefits that evolve from this activity, too.
“When students finished reading selections, other students wanted to check out the books that had been shared with Libby,” Leanna McWilliams, a teacher at Rock Quarry, said.
Listening to the books generated interest and motivated the students to read more.
Not all students are comfortable around dogs. Some have not had an opportunity to be with dogs and are fearful. As a student interacts with a dog like Libby, they develop a better understanding of animals. Rock Quarry students have grown to love Libby and look forward to her visits.
There are benefits for the handler, too.
“It is meaningful to me to reconnect with former colleagues, students and reading, as well as educating children about the humane treatment of animals and pet adoption, Calhoun said.
Libby and her friend Jada are both available for listening beginning Fall 2017. To book a school visit, you may contact Calhoun at firstname.lastname@example.org.