Kids Reading to Dogs Has a “Pawsitive” Effect
J3 Foundation and Bark Dogs are two non-profits that have joined forces to help children increase their reading skills and self-confidence by reading aloud to therapy dogs like Crosby.
The J3 students are sounding out words. We hear a chorus of short ahh’s and long o’s when suddenly the classroom door opens, there’s a flash of sunlight, and we see Sandi and her little curly brown dog standing ready at the entrance.
“Crosby’s here!” The kids break into a cheer.
Making his way around the classroom, Crosby pauses as tiny hands reach down to pet his head, smooth his floppy ears, and graze his belly. He’s twelve years old now and in no rush. His owner, Sandi, says he’s always been this mellow, making him a perfect therapy dog.
“Crosby loves everyone,” says Sandi Arthur (his owner and best friend).
Crosby is a special recurring visitor at Cozy Reading Club, the free afterschool reading program created by J3 Foundation for students in underserved communities. The organization has made it their mission to combat childhood illiteracy, starting in their hometown of Los Angeles, where 52% of students are reading below grade level.
Crosby might not know it, but he’s helping too.
Studies show that reading aloud to dogs can be a powerful tool to help kids become better readers. That’s why J3 Foundation joined forces with Bark Dogs to bring certified therapy dogs like Crosby to their schools.
When kids read to themselves, they skip words they don’t know. When reading aloud to a dog, they sound out every letter. There’s less pressure than reading to other people because dogs don’t judge. They’re not judging how the kids pronounce words, or how fast or slow they’re reading.
Crosby lending an ear during story time. “While reading to Crosby, the students seem to relax and enjoy the experience. They each feel special,” says Diane Aubson, J3 Site Coordinator at Laurel Elementary School.
In a different, quieter classroom, Crosby plops onto the polka-dotted rug where four kids sitting in a circle take turns reading to him. He rolls over onto his side, onto his back, occasionally lets out a small sigh, and scooches closer for pets and belly rubs.
He doesn’t judge when one student stumbles over the word “untroubled.”
“Untroubled. It means not having worries,” Sandi says. She smiles and pats Crosby’s tummy. “He’s pretty untroubled.”
Unfortunately, many kids in Cozy Reading Club aren’t “untroubled.” 90% of J3 students are from families with low-income. These kids often come from stressful home situations and don’t have access to books or pets.
And like Julian Banales, many of them do have worries.
Julian is a very shy, withdrawn child. During group activities before Crosby, he was reluctant to participate. When he did, he would cry.
But then Julian met Crosby. He instantly felt comfortable, smiling as he pet Crosby’s belly. “His interaction with Crosby was transformative,” says Karla McLucas, J3 Site Coordinator at Bursch Elementary.
Like Julian, many J3 students come from immigrant families, and their first language isn’t English.
“Because Julian was so shy, the school didn’t even know if he was fluent in both English and Spanish. But when reading aloud to Crosby, we discovered that his grasp of the English language and reading level was much higher than had been recorded. Before he met with Crosby, Julian wasn’t talking very much.”
Julian shows how reading aloud to therapy dogs gives striving readers the practice, comfort, and confidence to become better readers.
A heartfelt letter from a J3 student to Sandi and Crosby.
Now, Karla says, “he’s completely transformed. He’s volunteering to lead activities! Julian is one of the people who really, really connected with Bark Dogs.”
Crosby lays on his side with his eyes fluttering open and closed as the kids read to him at their own pace without worry. Like most dogs, he doesn’t know the good that he does for us. And even if he did, he wouldn’t want any credit. (Maybe just a treat.)
Sitting up, Crosby looks up with his soft brown eyes at Yafi Mozumber, the last reader of the group who’s trying to finish the page he’s on. Suddenly, Crosby reaches over the book and licks, licks, licks the child’s smiling face.
The End, Crosby seems to sigh, and they all giggle.
J3 Foundation provides its Cozy Reading Club program for free in underserved areas. With your help, they can spread this transformative experience to students across Southern California. Donate today to make a “pawsitive” difference for students like Julian.
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The J3 Cozy Reading Club teaches critical reading competencies through an evidence-based and culturally-relevant curriculum. It allows our Compton students, regardless of income or background, to receive a high-quality after-school reading intervention program. As the Director of Educational Services and former K-8 school principal, I have seen how the J3 Cozy Reading Club has impacted our students’ academic and social development and continues to do so each year. Most importantly, our students love attending J3 sessions! Thank you, J3 Foundation!
Struggling to Read, J3’s Cozy Reading Club Makes it Fun
“The Cozy Reading Club, J3 Foundation’s premier reading program, is special in how intentional every piece of the two-hour after-school program is,” Stacee Longo, Sr. Program Director of J3 Foundation says. “We take a holistic approach with our students by focusing on reading skills, mindfulness, social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and so much more.”
J3 Foundation is raising $864,000 to expand its Cozy Reading Club to 24 additional schools, double its book collection from 5,000 books to 10,000, and to reach 650 more students of color who are struggling to read.
A $1,500 donation will add 100 books to the J3 collection for our students to read. A $5,000 donation will support the costs of hiring highly qualified educators from our partner schools. A $12,000 donation can fund an entire trimester for a school in need. And a $36,000 donation will fund an entire year of the Cozy Reading Club for 30 students at one school.
“The magic of our program is that we provide a safe space where all students get to rediscover the joy and magic of a good book,” says Longo.
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