Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dog listeners

Sometimes you read those tweets on twitter that just make you think 'Wow - what a perfect idea!' This morning I read another conversation - and have time to write a quick post about it whilst catching up with f1 qualifying. Skip my waffle if you want to get to the juicy part! (Links at the bottom.)

Reading for pleasure is something very important to me, as I assume it is with most teachers. I was an avid reader as a child, but my children have shown me that sometimes you need extra tricks to get them to read. One of my sons (now 26) reads whilst eating, travelling and between conversations. He confesses that he's not the best conversationalist and would rather be reading than chatting. My youngest son had the same diet of tractor and Thomas books alongside the many other picture books that I picked up for 20p at the boot sale. He would rather be outside and doing than reading. At primary school he struggled throughout and although the school challenged his level 3 result at the end of year 6, I knew that's what he was. Gifted and talented mathematician, logical thinker, weak reader. Even though I bought him motocross / big machinery books, he wasn't particularly interested. The only fiction that inspired him as child were Lemony Snicket's, read to him by his enthusiastic teacher. I could go on about his secondary experiences and the fact that the only book he has ever chosen to buy was a Wilderness Survival Guide (yes, we live in a rural location - but it's not that rural!), but this post is about something that I wish I'd thought of years ago. We've always had dogs. They are great listeners. I never thought to get him to read to our pets. So the tweets that I read this morning reminded me about how I had read before about dogs being used in a therapeutic way, but I'd never thought about how wonderful  it would be to have them as non-judgemental listeners for our struggling readers. The Bark and Read programme argues how dogs are perfect listeners - attentive and non-judgemental. Stroking dogs reduces stress, which is the part of dog 'therapy' that I have read about before, particularly with the elderly and children/adults with SEN. But it doesn't have to just be about children with SEN.

Meet Macy and Sabre (I named the former!) at Nettishall Heath
I think about how my son, who is similar to many of the loveable rogues that you will encounter in your classrooms, would have loved the opportunity to work with a dog - and yes, I truly think he would have read a story to one. I have 5 low attaining boys in my class and I would love to find out if a 'dog listener' would boost their confidence. One thing I can do immediately is to find out if any of them have dogs in their immediate or extended families and maybe suggest it as a homework activity. I'm sure my parents already think I am a bit bonkers, so I doubt they will find this too odd.

The other thing I can do is change the focus of our class bears. Instead of the children writing about what they have done with him (I don't insist on this, they all just seem to love doing it) I will get them to read him a bedtime story, then record the title of the book and author and maybe mark it out of 10. That way, other children and families can see the range of books and stories being read. It will hopefully be a good influence.

I intend to read a story to Macy later to see what she does, just so I can tell parents my experience of it. I imagine that Macy will just wear her usual bemused expression - and probably fall asleep. She's not know for any friskiness!

Although I would be more than happy to raise a smaller breed of dog that could come to work with me and inspire children, I'm not sure how schools that do embrace this scheme work around children with allergies. It is something totally worth looking into in the future though, when time permits. I'd love to be 'that SENDco who used dogs in the classroom'...

Our beautiful Norfolk coast, looking a bit grey

Quick links 

Still buying books to inspire Jake to read!

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