When children are learning to read they face many obstacles. Here in our diverse City many children are learning English as a second or third language while learning to read. Others have learning disabilities that prevent them from readily maintaining the pace of their classmates. Still others are shy, or feel anxious when called upon to read aloud. Doubtless there are also children who face a combination of these hurdles.
Through our Puppy Dog Tales Reading Program (PDT) we promote literacy in at-risk populations and work closely with school and library staff to stimulate a love of reading in children. Reading to an adult may seem overwhelming, so participants in this program read to therapy dogs. Teams are placed at a school or library for 6-week to yearlong sessions and work with 4-6 children for 10-20 minutes each. Reading time is a sustained, individualized activity that children eagerly anticipate. Volunteers have the opportunity to develop a rapport with students and support their efforts in a non-judgmental way.
Training for Puppy Dog Tales teams is more demanding than standard AAT training, but the rewards are phenomenal. Volunteers report that children who could not read through a sentence in the first meeting quickly warm up to their pets, feeling safe and supported enough to meet their reading challenges. Children who were once too nervous to read aloud in class uncover self-confidence; those who needed some additional attention to vocabulary and grammar find themselves finishing books.
The Puppy Dog Tales Reading Program began with a pilot at the Chinatown Branch of the San Francisco Public Library in June of 2007. Since our modest start, we have added more libraries and San Francisco Unified Schools to our program. We are currently seeking new PDT teams to fill the increasing demands for our services. All PDT teams go through training in the General Program in addition to more specialized training.
Please direct further inquiries to AAT@sfspca.org .