Pawzitive promotes pet assisted therapy for people in need in the Downpatrick area. They were recently awarded a £9,839 grant from Awards for All to train dog handlers to carry out support with 100 primary school children in the Downpatrick area. The children are developing literacy by reading aloud to the ‘book buddy’ dogs.
Pawzitive’s Volunteer Coordinator Fiona Robertson, said: “Literacy is a life skill not an academic subject. If someone has poor literacy skills their whole life is affected. Our dogs are able to give non-judgemental comfort and support to kids who are struggling to read.”
Book Buddies was first piloted in 2011 in St Patrick’s Primary School, Ballynahinch and the success of the pilot led to a plan that could be used in all primary schools in Northern Ireland.
A Book Buddies team works with children of primary school age and their teachers/education professionals in the school environment, where each Book Buddies programme provides literacy support for four children over a 10 week period. The children enjoy one to one sessions with the Book Buddies team twice a week and their reading level is assessed before and after taking part in the Book Buddies programme.
Fiona said “The children in the Book Buddies programme progress significantly more than those with other forms of literacy support. Many have exceeded even the highest expectations of their teachers. The average improvement in reading age is 1 year and 4 months, with a few children moving forward by more than 2 years.”
“All of the children in each school love the Book Buddies dogs and they all want to read with them,” said Fiona. “The dog reduces the child’s stress when reading. The children not only improve their reading but also their self-confidence, social interaction and engagement in other school subjects. I have seen some go on to read aloud to their younger siblings after completing our programme.”
“One little girl in particular sticks in my memory as she had little or no engagement in literacy in class and was already receiving support from the Education board. Her Book Buddy helped her improve her reading by almost 2 years, and she also made a beautiful Xmas card for her Book Buddy doggy. She started to enjoy her other classwork, putting her hand up and volunteering answers for the first time.”
“Poor literacy is a root cause of many young people falling behind in school and being excluded from the job market after leaving school. Prisons and young offenders’ institutions have high levels of illiteracy in their populations. By reversing the trend of poor literacy which exists in Northern Ireland, post primary children, we hope we can give our Book Buddies children opportunities and options they would not have had otherwise.
The Book Buddies programme can’t change everyone’s life, but we aim to change the lives of those who take part in our sessions, their families and the wider community for the better; and give them a helping hand on the start of their life’s journey. Everyone at Pawzitive hopes you have a very Happy Xmas and that Santa brings lots of books to enjoy.”