It’s been said the only way to help children learn to love reading is allowing them to read for pleasure.
For our local Year 2 students, a great connector between the two in recent years has been the Story Dogs program. Commencing on the Sunshine Coast in September 2015 with one volunteer dog team, the Story Dogs program has grown to 26 volunteer dog teams supporting 10 schools.
The program allows school children to build up their confidence by reading in a non-threatening environment by reading to non-judgemental canines. It’s happening nation-wide, and targets Year 2, aged 7-8 students who need additional support with their reading.
At Tewantin State School, two volunteers and their dogs visit weekly and the same time on the same day. One of these teams, Natalie Gordon and her dog, Soda have been involved at Tewantin State School since 2016. Four students are chosen and matched for the duration of a school year and each child has an individual reading session spending 15-20 minutes reading to their Story Dog.
Noosa co-ordinator, Petra Westphal said the non-judgmental, loving nature of dogs helps children relax and open up through the Story Dogs program.
"When children read to a dog, the results are quite incredible. Their focus improves, their literacy skills increase and it's just wonderful to see their confidence soar," Petra shared.
Getting regular financial support for the program has been challenging, but one local business is doing its part. For the past two years, the Tewantin Community Bank branch of Bendigo Bank has supported Tewantin State School and is also involved in the program through other coast schools.
Petra said Bendigo Bank’s support has come at a great time.
“We’re very grateful for the work Bendigo’s Community Bank branches provide not only to Story Dogs, but through many other groups and projects in our community. The main thing we want to let other businesses on the coast know, is that we rely on dog team sponsorships to cover operational costs. Sponsorship levels are at 64% and more sponsors are desperately needed to enable future growth,” she added.
Tewantin Community Bank branch manager, Kerri Wright said the program is an inspiration.
“The challenge for families remains getting the kids away from screens and into books. Anything we can do to encourage children to read confidently and enjoy what they read will help them become life-long readers," Kerri said.
Except for restricted dog breeds, all dogs are eligible to become part of Story Dogs. Temperament, obedience and willingness are of utmost importance to the program and they must also pass an accreditation test carried out by certified dog team assessors. The program is available to both state and private primary schools and is free to all participating students.
A school generally comes on board when a volunteer comes on board and requests a school near them. If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor or want more information about Story Dogs, contact Petra Westphal on 0419 137 716.