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Growing Reader

A Reader’s Best Friend: The Many Benefits of Reading with Animals

by Melissa Taylor

Illustration: Luciano Lozano

A reluctant reader plus a loving animal can be a powerful combination for reading practice.

Reading to a dog, or any pet, gives children a safe environment to practice their reading, make mistakes, and grow as a reader. Plus, it’s way cooler than reading to mom and dad every night.

Darcy, a blond 7-year-old with dyslexia, struggles with reading. Tonight she’s nestled in a corner of pillows with a picture book and her greyhound, Pippi. Slowly the words come out. Halting. Unsure. But Pippi doesn’t care. She listens attentively as Darcy reads aloud.

Other nights, Darcy reads to their new kitty. She loves reading to an attentive animal audience, one who loves her and never says she’s doing it wrong.

“It’s easier for [Darcy] to read to them because she doesn’t feel like they are judging her and they don’t jump in to correct her or help her like her older sister does,” says Darcy’s mom.

For struggling readers like Darcy, who need to practice reading to build their reading confidence and fluency, the feeling of safety with an animal allows for uninhibited reading risk and practice.

Educational researcher and linguist Stephen Krashen explains that a child’s “affective filter,” or affective emotions such as low self-esteem and anxiety, can create a mental block that often inhibits learning.

Reading to pets removes that mental block and increases the chance for learning to occur.

And let’s be honest, it’s always fun to spend time with our pets.

Case in point: Jake and his pet gerbils. As Jake’s dad recounts, “We recently adopted gerbils. On their first day in our house, Jake read them Geronimo Stilton stories to help them feel more at home.”

Jake doesn’t need to read to his gerbils; he wants to because it’s so much fun.

Or Amanda’s daughter and her guinea pig: “We have a guinea pig and my 8-year-old takes it out every day after school and reads to it (and her younger brothers). It’s the sweetest thing in the world to see them.”

If you don’t have a pet in your household, you can find programs for reading to animals through libraries, hospitals, and schools. Organizations such as R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) provide well-trained therapy dogs for child-animal reading experiences. And some animal shelters open their doors to children who want to read to their homeless pets.

Even Grumpy Cat might sit still for a good story.