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Reading has gone to the dogs

Noel sits at attention with her ears perked waiting to hear the next exciting event in today's story at the R.H. Stafford Library. Once the story comes to a close, Noel's tail is wagging in approval.

Noel, a 5-year-old Golden Retriever, is a trained therapy dog who's mission is to help improve the literacy skills in children through a comfortable and non-threatening environment.

Noel will be all ears at the R.H. Stafford Library's "Dog Gone Reading " program, which started on Dec. 2 and will also be held on Dec. 9. Noel will offer children, grades 1-7, who are not confident readers the chance to read to her for 15 minutes in hopes of improving their confidence, library manager Chad Lubbers said.

"The idea is that for some kids who may not like to read, this presents kind of a fun and relatively non-threatening venue for them to sit down and just read a book," he said. "In some cases for them to just have fun around books and a dog -- it's so cute because the dog will actually sit there and look at a child and it looks like she's actually listening."

The goal of the R.E.A.D program is to improve the literacy skills of children, but Lubbers said he doesn't think there have been any follow up studies for these types of events, but to him, he said that's not what the program is really about.

"Some kids do have reluctance to read either in a classroom environment, or sometimes even to a parent. This is something that kids can do just for fun, sometimes the novelty of it is in itself a good thing for kids because it's so very different than what they're used to doing," he said. " They don't feel like they're necessarily performing for a teacher, or for an audience, or for a parent -- this is just something they are doing with a big fuzzy friend."

Lubbers said he does expect the dog to be a little distracting to the younger readers because they are going to want to primarily play with Noel and not necessarily read to her.

"I imagine there will be a little bit of cuddling going on," he said. "But, what a fun opportunity, especially for those kids who don't have pets."

Children can either bring their own books to read, or the library will provide books that they can choose from to read to Noel.

Lubbers said if reading to Noel encourages children to go home and read aloud to their own pets, then the program was a success.

"The image of a child going home and trying to read to their cat who just wants to go down and take a nap is kind of funny, or a child going and sitting next to a hamster cage, or a goldfish tank, I think it's kind of a cute idea," he said. "I've read to dogs before in my house, sometimes they're the only people who will listen to me."

Even though there is no guarantee that reading to Noel will improve a child's reading skills, it will hopefully make them more comfortable reading, Lubbers said.

"It's all about making kids comfortable reading, some kids aren't comfortable reading in front of other people, some kids are only comfortable reading by themselves," he said. "This is just another option to encourage kids to develop that comfort level."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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