Author AJ Kormon offers her take on why kids should read to their pets!
A few years ago, I saw a news clip about kids who were reading to shelter dogs. I couldn’t help but think what a fantastic idea this was, both for the kids and the dogs. Then I started noticing our dogs were always around when my husband or I would read to the kids. The minute we’d sit down to read a book, the dogs were on the couch or the bed, jockeying for the best spot to see the book. This was no accident. While the benefits of having pets have been known for quite some time, researchers are now looking more specifically at the benefits of reading to animals. What’s amazing about this practice is not only can reading to animals boost kids’ literacy skills, but the animals benefit from socializing with the kids too.
Reading aloud requires a different set of skills than reading silently. I certainly trip over my words a lot more when I read to my kids than when I read to myself. When kids read aloud, especially if they are choosing the same book to read to their pets each time, they improve their reading speed and fluency. Because pets respond to kids’ voices and the time they get to spend with them, kids become motivated to read with their animals. The behaviour becomes self-reinforcing because they are spending quality time together.
Let’s face it, nobody likes to make mistakes. As often as I tell my kids mistakes are how we learn, they have never liked sounding out words in front of me. When I ask them why, they tell me it’s because they think they’re going to get the word wrong. When they’re reading alone with their pets, they have no choice but to sound out the word, because there’s nobody there to tell them what the word is. Having to continue with the story builds confidence for the reader even if they haven’t read the word correctly. They can keep going without focusing on the more difficult words they didn’t know.
When kids read to their pets, their connection with the animal grows and they begin to feel a sense of duty to read to them. This can be a great motivation for your kids to continue reading with their pets. I have overheard my kids asking their dogs what they thought of the story or relaying their own thoughts about characters in the books they’ve read.
Our dogs sure look forward to reading time too (as evidenced by their climbing all over my kids to get a good look at the books). Animals love attention as much as kids do, and in their world, this equates to snuggling next to (or on) their humans while listening to a familiar voice. If your kids don’t have any pets, there are opportunities for them to practice reading aloud too. You may be able to borrow a family member’s or friend’s pet, or maybe your community has a program like the one I saw on the news. Reading to stuffed animals can have the same benefits too!
Regardless of how they
make it work, I hope your kids try this combination of reading and connecting
with animals—a winning combination!