By Adriana Lopez
They are cute, non-judgmental, they listen and get children eager to read. What more can you want?
Libraries throughout Riverside have partnered with Therapy Dog International to create Be A Reading Kid. Volunteers from Therapy Dog International bring certified therapy dogs to libraries for children to read to in hopes of creating a relaxing and encouraging atmosphere.
La Sierra Library has utilized the program for nearly three years and Isabel Guzman, the library supervisor, has witnessed the benefits of the program.“There was a little girl who came in and could barely speak, she would just point at pictures, now she is about five and is starting to actually read,” Guzman said.
The success behind B.A.R.K. lies within the environment it creates. Most children are eager to approach friendly dogs and friendly dogs are happy to be approached by curious children. Once a child chooses a book to read, the dog’s training kicks in and they are ready to be attentive listeners.
On March 20, volunteers Kay Robinson and Dawn Stallmo were accompanied by Piper, a Cairn Terrier, and Bambi, a Chihuahua and Italian Greyhound mix.
Robinson is a retired school teacher of 40 years and believes the importance of children learning that reading is enjoyable cannot be overstated.
“Any time you can turn a child onto reading and make them understand that they’re successful learners is important and these dogs build up confidence within the children,” Robinson said.
For Stallmo, witnessing the joy the children experience has been personally rewarding.
“Seeing how the children light up when they see the dogs has been great,” she said.
Within a few minutes of the volunteers’ arrival, there was a small group of children reading to the dogs. Piper and Bambi were a hit.
One of the children, Makayla Serrano, initially read quietly but three books in and she was all smiles.
“I was shy at first but the dog was nice so I kept reading,” Serrano said.
Parents were also excited to see their children eager to read. Katie Schmit brought her son Benjamin to the library and he asked to take part in the reading.
“I’m hoping it helps him read, he typically doesn’t read much,” Schmit said.
A stack of books piled up as children read from them. Piper and Bambi attentively listened to “Ollie the Stomper” by Olivier Dunrea, “Can a Cat Do That?” by Eric Carle, “A Birthday for Cow!” by Jan Thomas, among many others. For the hour that the therapy dogs were available, there was no stopping the children from reading, just as everyone would hope for.
As B.A.R.K. gains participants and earns returning guests, Guzman encourages parents to bring their children.
“Come in and observe, you don’t have to participate right away if you want to see what the program is about and ask the volunteers questions. It is a fun encounter for the children and encourages them to read,” she said.
For more information on B.A.R.K and other programs go to riversideca.gov/library.