Sean Rodriguez is a 10-year-old 5th grader who struggled with reading. His mother, Kristi, Program Coordinator at the Animal Rescue League in Pennsylvania, decided to bring him in to read to cats to refine his skills in a nonjudgmental environment. It went so well that he started asking to come back and read more! His regular visits back to the shelter led to remarkable improvement in his reading.
From that single idea, the Book Buddies Program was born. The program aims to “help children improve their reading skills while also helping the shelter animals by providing socialization and human interaction.” It has proven to be a win win for both the children and the cats. As it turns out, the rhythmic sound of a child’s voice while reading has shown to be very comforting and soothing for cats. Home-schooled children, Brownie Troops, and parents that simply want to expose their children to animals in a quiet, comfortable setting are also benefitting from this program. According to researchers at Tufts University, autistic children have found the cats to be a great “source of support” and actually led to an “increased use of language” with “improved social interactions while with the animal”.
The program is coming up on just its 1 year anniversary this August, but quickly went viral when “a photo of 7-year-old Colby Procyk reading to a cat was posted on Reddit” according to petcentric.com, quickly spreading to outlets including the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, among others.
In a similar manner, Library Paws 4 Reading is an organization that has been around for several years that provides opportunities for children to read to dogs. The program allows children to cuddle up with a dog and just read – without the pressure of being corrected on mistakes. In an interview with our affiliated Petcentric team, Constance Howell, who volunteers for the program says, “The benefits of the program are clear when I see the same young readers come back again and again. The children are genuinely excited about reading to the dogs and many even come clearly having prepared and practiced the stories they’ve chosen.”
There are many organizations nationwide that participate in the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) program. Check out the Intermountain Therapy Animals website, where you can learn about similar programs in your area.