After three years of existence, the “Reading to Dogs” program at the Hoboken Public Library continues to build children’s self confidence and motivation, all while cultivating their enthusiasm for reading.
“Reading to Dogs is a year-round program,” said Lois Gross, the children’s librarian, last week. “I first knew about it when I was working in Colorado, about 20 years ago. I adopted [the idea] and took it with me to Florida and used it successfully for five years. The dogs aren’t doing anything, to be honest...but they are a central conduit...the dogs are the magnet.”
On one Wednesday each month, six to 12 kids sign up to come to the library and read to dogs that have been specially trained. It gives kids confidence, and besides, they enjoy being with the animals.
“The most successful participants tend to be in grades one through two,” said Gross. “This is definitely not a toddler program. Kids need to be able to read, even if they are struggling – which in fact is our target audience. I hear from parents that they see definite improvement in fluency if the kids come on a regular basis, especially since some kids practice their books in preparation for the program.”
Setting an environment
“Most of our dog/trainer teams are from Hoboken,” said Gross. “However, we’ve had trainers come in from Bergen and Morris County, but our consistent volunteers are from Hoboken. Our longest volunteering team members are Sofie [Shepherd mix] and her trainer/handler Connie Shannon. We’ve added about four to five teams since the first time we opened for service. Dogs like Sofie are the ‘rock stars’ of the program.”
Besides Sofie, the next in longevity is Sheffield, a white West Highland Terrier. Also popular are MeLou, a pit mix; Raisin, a black lab; and Zek, a Westie.
“The dogs aren’t judgmental.” – Lois Gross
She said, “It’s a requirement for our library and the program. They must be able to interact safely with children, be patient, and be able to work with other dogs in the room. I frequently get people calling to say they want to bring their family pet to the program. Unfortunately, we can’t accommodate that directly, but we always encourage and do refer them to organizations, like Bright and Beautiful, for evaluation.”
Connie Shannon, a representative with Bright and Beautiful in Morris Plains, N.J., and a coordinator with the Animal Alliance of NYC, said, “We had gone from reading Dr. Seuss up to science, space, dinosaurs and everything else in between. Each child has a different opportunity to be with different kind of dog.”
Not just any dogs
Gross said the rewards of the program are many.
“We have at least one 5-year-old who reads fluently and participates, and one stalwart fifth grader who comes mostly because she loves dogs and doesn’t have one at home,” she said.
And who wouldn’t love to read to a dog?
“The dogs aren’t judgmental,” Gross said. “It’s simple as that. Kids love dogs.”
To find out more about all of the reading programs, contact the Hoboken Public Library at (201) 420-2348. Reading to Dogs is a monthly program that meets on Wednesdays. Sept. 19 is the next date, and there are three time periods available, beginning at 3 p.m., 3:15 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Call soon, because reservations fill up fast.