Remember back when you were a kid? I mean way back, when you were just a little nipper, in school learning to read.
I recall my first or second grade teacher, Mrs. SomethingOrAnother (see how much of an impact she made) scratching what could have been Cyrillic letters on the blackboard. Through a dense cloud of chalk dust, squiggles and lines appeared. The word forming power of the alphabet, unleashed in all its intimidating glory.
The popular teaching style back then, I firmly believe, came from secret documents smuggled from Soviet work camps in the frozen wastelands of Siberia. You. Will. Learn. No excuses, no second chances. Memorize, read and repeat. Your very soul faced damnation if you fell behind.
Reading was torture, a punishment doled out for talking in class. Then, “The Day” came, the day you had to read out loud, in front of the entire class. Children are cruel. The classroom became a Lord of the Flies reenactment and I was headed for slaughter. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived. Others took a brutal verbal pounding from classmates and teachers.
There has to be a better way, right?
Fast forward to this last week. Have you ever read to a dog?
Yep, you heard right, read – to a dog.
Our three-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Tanner, is a certified therapy dog. My wife does much of the therapy work with him while I prepare our eighteen-month old Corgi, Emma for therapy certification. Tanner and Ann-Marie take tours through nursing homes, assisted living facilities and memory care units, offering a moment of comfort to aging people. Sometimes, a brief flicker of a smile blossoms in a moment of recognition of a locked away memory. Tanner also goes to schools, boys & girls clubs and libraries, where kids read to a group of therapy dogs.
The first time I saw the interaction between a kid reading a book to a dog, it blew me away. The child sits on the floor and simply reads to a random dog. The dog doesn’t judge how well the kid reads, or make fun of him when he stumbles over words. The child seems to ignore the person with the dog and simply reads for the joy of reading. Most of the kids say they have dogs at home, but they come, wait in lines and take turns reading to Tanner and other therapy dogs.
How cool is that? Reading isn’t punishment any longer. I would have loved that approach instead of the hooked on phonics gulag I attended. If you see a reading to the dogs event near you, go check it out, even if you don’t have a child participating. It will give you a warm and fuzzy feeling and we can all use more of those moments.