Summer reading. Oh, how I loathed those words when I was 12, 13, 14 years old. The very phrase conjures one hundred pages of dread between a weathered, blue-bound “Old Man and the Sea.”
It reminds me of very long sentences which seemingly have no end and are written by a man for whom I have no love because I hated his style and had no patience to figure it out, and I had better things to do like going to the beach instead of reading books like “Absalom! Absalom!” because that is just a part of Southern heritage and a literary classic for goodness sake.
But then, a miracle happened. I met Dante Pignetti. And Samneric. And Margaret Schlegel. I spent time in a small boat with a tiger and at the Round Table and in an old, ornate wardrobe. I attended a wealthy eccentric’s parties and was watched by Big Brother and was beaten by a man who was beaten by “the man.”
I found myself lost in books and determined that my children would be, too. I was devastated to find in 2008, not only that my son was not interested in reading, but that the reason he wasn’t interested was because he wasn’t good at it.
In the wake of a divorce and in the midst of remarriage and relocation, he had lost his confidence. I didn’t even know that could happen to an 8-year-old, but it happened to him. The teacher’s first clue was in his reluctance to read aloud.
“Sign him up for Paws for Reading at the Aiken Public Library,” my teacher friend said. “WHY?” I puzzled aloud. “Why would reading to dogs help him read better? They can’t correct him or guide him like I can.”
Exactly. The dogs don’t pass judgment, correct, prompt or make fun. They just listen and love.
The results were amazing and almost immediate. Six sessions later, my “not a reader” kid was reading everything he saw aloud. He began taking turns with me reading books at night. And he began reading by himself.
The next year, he read the entire “Harry Potter” series. Following that, we had another brief problem when he didn’t want to read because nothing would ever be as compelling as “Harry Potter,” so he read them all again.
Like magic (see what I did there?), the dogs took the pressure off. They made reading rewarding and fun.
Since then, we have read many books together: “The Hobbit,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Tom Sawyer” and “The Hunger Games.” The enthusiasm is contagious, and my daughter is in on the fun now, too.
Are you pulling teeth to get your child to read? Or do you have one that loves to read that you’d like to reward? Bring them to the SPCA to read to the dogs.
We will provide a folding chair and a mannerly dog. We will not provide a baby-sitting service, so an adult is going to have to come along. But don’t fret. Junior can plunge into “Divergent” while Mom finishes “Fifty Shades” for the 50th time. We don’t judge. After all, our intentions are selfish.
We know what benefits our dogs reap from hearing you read aloud. Yes, we want you to pat a dog and let them hear your voice. Dogs have to learn to be calm, well-mannered parts of a family. While our dogs are “teaching” your child confidence and their first form of public speaking, your child will be “teaching” SPCA dogs to relax. Thus, READ & RELAX.
We aren’t suggesting the reading list. As a mom, I will tell you there are great suggestions in those horrible books that keep your child’s skills polished over the summer. Two of my favorites are “Summer Bridge” and “Summer Fit.” (I’m that mom.) Also, the Aiken library has incentive programs for readers. Maybe your kid brought home a list from school. There are some great age-appropriate suggestions online, even.
All we are saying is: If you child completes two hours of reading over the summer with our dogs (and under your supervision if they are under the age of 16), we will give them a certificate, a bookmark, a pencil, a glow-in-the-dark bracelet and a water bottle. It doesn’t sound like much, but kids like free stuff, and they stand to gain a whole lot more. So do you. Believe me, I know.
If you have questions about the program, call me at 803-648-6863 or email me at development@LetLoveLive.org. I’m happy to share my experience and our success.
Chrissey Miller, CAWA
SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare