Animals and children are the hope of the planet. Their playfulness, joy and innocence bounce back and forth when they play and communicate with each other. Children learn to trust their animal companions. They tell them things that need to be said, and possibly no one else has time to listen to hear. Puppies, kittens, horses, lizards, birds and all the animals you can imagine interact with children in deeply connected ways. There are stories that show us how children in all parts of the world bond with animals. Having a pet to share your adventures, sorrows and fears with benefit people of all ages, especially children.
Programs like Readers of the Pack – www.4pawscenter.org bring trained therapy dogs into school libraries to do nothing, but sit and listen as children read. Kids can work through tricky vowel sounds without felling like they are pressured to hurry up. Instead of anxious looks, they are met with the eager face of a polite and furry listener.
At specific libraries students can earn free books by reading to “listening” canines.
In schools, teams work individually with students, some of whom may be struggling with literacy for a variety of reasons. They may be learning English or have an unstable home life, and some have learning challenges that make it difficult to concentrate. Their 4 paws dogs off a calm, safe environment where children can practice, make mistakes, and try out different strategies that can help them become more confident as they read. Over the past few years schools have discovered that these therapy dogs also calm the test anxiety and reduce stress in certain areas.
One study conducted at the University of California, Davis, found a 12% boost in reading proficiency when kids read aloud to dogs for 10 to 15 minutes per week. Some studies found therapy dogs can actually help raise literacy by at least two grade levels.
Much of the communication between animals and children seem to be nonverbal, but none the less very powerful. I have watched wonderful exchanges between horses, cats, dogs, birds and other animals with children that are VERY healing and at times profound.
Horse therapy programs are popping up all over the country because people have found that interacting with a gentle horse has a strong impact on adults and children is long lasting. Amazing results occur for children of all walks of life. Children usually are more open to new experiences and when they are not the horses help them gradually relax and develop over time.
Some of the obvious benefits of learning about animals is by interacting with them. Learning about empathy relationships, the environment and nature are just some. There are many valuable learning experiences and are something children probably won’t get in most childcare environments. One of those benefits is that children how grow up communicating with animals are less fearful as adults and handle stress in a more positive manner.