When a rare opening happens during the morning, Bears approaches brothers Christopher and Alex Grondin, who are reading independently in the children’s room.
“I thought she was joking when she asked if I wanted to read to a dog,” says Alex, 10.
Both boys enjoy the spur-of-the-moment experience.
“It was a little silly. Why would a dog want to listen?” asks Christopher, 12. “But when we started reading she calmed right down and liked it.”
Researchers are unsure why reading to a dog rather than a person is such a successful way to improve reading skills. However, it is thought that the dog provides a non-judgmental audience, while encouraging children to sound out words on their own.
“The dog doesn’t correct them,” said Bears, the librarian. “Adults can be intimidating. With the dog, kids just get to be comfortable.”
Schauer, Mira’s handler, sees another reason that reading to dogs improves literacy.
“Kids take it very seriously,” she said. “They respond to Mira’s level of understanding, and I think they understand that they are sharing this skill, reading, with someone who can’t read.”
Schauer believes that children recognize that this is an important task, and are therefore much more focused on reading. She notices that many children will come to the library ahead of time to pick a book that they think is suitable for a dog, and most pick a book about canines.
“I’ve even had kids ask me if it’s O.K. that there is a cat in a book,” she said.
Parents and children agree that the program is a fun and unique way to encourage reading.
“(Grace) has just started reading aloud to herself, so we want to keep that going,” said Steven Jungmann, whose daughter had just finished reading to Mira. “This is another chance to practice those skills.”