I grew up in a family of readers, and was fortunate to have a mother who also taught English. Thus, my childhood from the very early years often found me with my nose buried in a book. Other children may not quite be as fortunate, and reading sometimes comes hard. An innovative kind of reading program is developing to help these kids learn to read: the concept of reading to a cat or dog.
I first became acquainted with a "read to animals" program through a local animal rescue organization near me, H.A.L.O. (Homeless Animals Lifeline Organization), when I donated several copies of a children's book I had written. H.A.L.O.'s reading program is called "Angel Ears," which utilizes therapy dogs who visit a local library, parks, and a rehabilitation center. There, children with difficulty reading, can read to their visiting therapy dog. H.A.L.O. describes the program: ". . .the overall goal of Angel Ears has been to enhance children's love of reading through the use of therapy animals, thus laying the foundation for a lifetime of learning and higher quality of life. More specifically, it is a creative way to battle illiteracy by having children read aloud to their very own therapy dog."
In 2009, the Best Friends Humane Education department launched an "I Read to Animals" campaign, starting with small groups in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New York. These programs are open to all children, the intent being to foster humane awareness, both in the children and in their parents who accompany them to I Read to Animals reading groups. Although Best Friends apparently no longer sponsors new "read to animals" programs, I did find two separate existing groups on the Best Friend's website:
Start at HomeIf you are not prepared to engage in humane education for children in a broader scale, or none are available in your area, you can start at home with your own child. Find a book that you have read with your child before, and a comfortable place for you, your child, and a pet to sit together. It might be easier if you hold the cat or dog between yourself and your child and ask if he or she would like to read to the pet. One child in the Good Friends program became so enthusiastic about reading to the dog that he created his own book with color crayons.
For more ideas on helping children bond with their pets while learning a lot more about the world of animals, try one or more of the ideas in my article, Teach a Kid to Bond With Cats