Silent Mentors In Literacy Education
The goal of the S.M.I.L.E. program is to improve, encourage, and nurture the literacy skills of children with the help of certified pet therapy pets in library and school settings.
A child who has some reading difficulties or is hesitant to read aloud may find it more relaxing and less stressful reading to a pet than to a person because the pet doesn’t judge, criticize or correct the child’s reading. A pet can be a FURever Friend!
The S.M.I.L.E. Program is geared towards children who need to develop more confidence in reading. A team consisting of a handler and a pet (i.e. dog, cat, bunny) visit the contracted library or school twice monthly for approximately 60 minutes to two hours. Children typically spend 5-15 minutes one-on-one with the pet. Each reading session is dependent upon the child’s attention span and skills. Sometimes the session is extended if the child would like to read or talk to the pet for a little while longer and if the time constraints for the child, the teacher in charge, and the handler will allow for extra time.
Purpose: To improve their literacy, inflection, communication, and vocabulary skills of children while boosting their attention span and confidence.
Environment: A quiet room with the child, the therapy pet, and the handler. The teacher is also in the room or sitting right outside the door but within the line of sight. This encourages focus since there is little noise and distraction during the sessions.
Time: 5-15 minutes per child for a reading session. The maximum amount of children is usually around 5-8 per school session to ensure that the session does not overextend the therapy pet’s capabilities.
In addition to improving literacy skills and an overall interest in reading, a therapy pet program in schools may offer the following benefits to the reader:
– Increased Compassion
– Stress relief
– Better focus
– Improved moods
– Increased attention span
– Calming influence
– Practice in being gentle and kind to animals
The children may have one or more of the following issues that make reading difficult:
– Poor frustration tolerance
– Learning challenges
– Behavioral disorders
– Down’s syndrome
– ADD or ADHD
– Asperger’s or Autism Spectrum Disorder
– Developmental Delays
– A Stutter or Tic disorder
It is our experience when sitting down in a quiet room with a loving animal, a child will immediately feel comfort and compassion. There isn’t anyone who will critique the child’s reading ability. The therapy animal is there to be a supportive, quiet presence. A pet cannot comment or criticize on how well (or how poorly) the child is reading. The child can nuzzle, pet, or brush the dog while he/she is reading. The entire experience is positive. The pet receives lots of attention and cuddles while the child experiences an environment that encourages his or her confidence in reading.
Our visits remind them of pets they have had in the past and puts a smile on their face as they reminisce. The pets fill avoid in their lives. Residents wait in anticipation of our visits because the time spent with our pets makes them feel loved and wanted. Therapy dogs and their handlers visit these sites knowing their presence is an uplifting experience for the elderly people they meet. Their smiles and displays of gentleness and affection toward our pets reveal to both pets and handlers alike that a reciprocal relationship exists.
Our therapy teams are devoted to sharing our love and caring ways with the residents. It is obvious through their body language and enthusiasm when interacting with our therapy teams, that their need for pet/human contact is satisfied by our visits.
FURever As Friends provides the ABC’s of life (Affection, Brighten one’s day, and Companionship) for the folks we visit and care about so much.
Some of the children are not able to have pets for various reasons (i.e. a sibling with allergies, living in a building where pets aren’t allowed), and we can provide them with the opportunity to interact with a dog or cat when they would otherwise not have the chance to do so. This interaction teaches the child to be gentle and kind to the pet, how to properly brush or stroke the pet, how to properly give treats, and how to speak in a kind voice to the animal.
Also, the kids love to ask about the dog – what she eats, how often she eats each day, if she’s healthy, what types of treats she likes, what commands she knows, etc. This is another valuable experience because they are learning how to properly care for a pet
FURever As Friends visits a residential program for girls who have behavioral/emotional issues, substance abuse problems and intensive treatment services in a trauma-informed treatment milieu that cannot be addressed at the community level. Here we provide a calming, less stressful environment where the girls interact and play with our pets.
FURever As Friends supports a wide variety of events held at funeral homes like the Celebration of Life, Butterfly Release, LifeStep Workshops, Pet Loss Remembrance and many more events throughout the year.
FURever As Friends visits adult behavioral centers with the adults ranging from 18-100 yrs old. We spend time interacting with them and talking about our pets and how we care for them.