As children around the world celebrate World Book Day, a teacher in Iowa has found an innovative way for youngsters to improve their reading skills – by telling stories to animals.
Dogs, cats and even rabbits have been benefitting from tales told to them by 11-to-14-year-olds at the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.
Courtney Bright, who teaches at Amos Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines, suggested the ‘Litter-ary Club’ after discovering reading to animals could be beneficial to struggling readers.
“Every study that I read, students not only increased in their reading ability but it also increased their want to read,” Bright told BT.com.
“Hiatt students are incredibly excited to go and read to the animals. It lowers a student’s stress level when reading in front of animals.”
The rescue animals are thought to benefit from the study because they get much-needed human contact in the form of kind words and attention.
Bright added the animals become calmer after being read stories, and some even fall asleep.
“We were thrilled to jump on board and get the kids involved with this new program,” said Michaela Devaney, volunteer coordinator at the animal shelter, which is five miles from the school.
“We are always trying to evolve and change our programmes to increase the human-animal bond at the ARL.
“The dogs tend to be very interested in the readers, and then they relax and enjoy the company.
“Even some of our most energetic dogs manage to be soothed by the children’s voices. The cats take extra big stretches and some of them even take naps.”
Cindy Gerke, foster and transfer partner coordinator at the centre, said the animals are non-judgmental, which means the children can improve their skills as they are under no pressure to read at a particular speed nor even to get the words 100% right.
“The pets couldn’t care less how fast or slow we read or even what we are reading, what we look like or are wearing,” Gerke told BT.com.
“So the kids get their reading practice and the adoration and attention of a living creature while they're doing it.”
At the moment the school is only able to provide transport for 11 pupils to take part in the project twice a month, but to build on the success of the project it is hoped the program will be broadened next year.