Library adapts PAWS reading program during pandemic
Written by Jennifer Williams-Cannon
During this time of limited socialization, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library understands families are experiencing many hardships, including changes to their child’s education routine. Many parents are working hard to educate their children at home, fearing they might be falling behind in their reading skills.
Finding opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis, the Library expanded its programming to fully online service. Online resources have included e-books, storytimes, technology tutoring, career development and our PAWS to Read reading services for young readers. Children who are learning to read are often hesitant about their reading abilities. Many kids feel more at ease reading to animals, who are simply there to listen – not to judge how well they are reading.
The Library recognizes this, and for years, has promoted the PAWS reading program which consists of volunteers with dogs specially trained and certified as therapy animals. These therapy dogs serve as reading partners, assisting children with their quiet presence, and helping the children develop a love for reading.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, families would visit the library in person to have face-to-face visits with our PAWS volunteers. It was common to see a child snuggled up next to a therapy dog reading their favorite book. It was such a popular program before the pandemic that we wanted to see if the community would be receptive to “virtual” PAWS sessions. To our surprise and delight the community said yes!
Parents can schedule appointments by visiting the website: www.cmlibrary.org. Appointments are 15 minutes long, depending on the age of the child. Reading sessions are held on zoom with a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library employee and with a PAWS volunteer. Most participants are school-age children, and many of the students who participate are extremely shy about their reading abilities. They may feel intimidated about reading with a person, but they don’t feel this same shyness with a friendly dog.
Parents continue to share stories about how their children have opened up, gained confidence and a new desire for learning to read.
“Reading with a PAWS volunteer has been such an amazing way to get my child excited about reading! The therapy dogs have been a GREAT source of support. My daughter did not enjoy reading before covid, and now she loves to read with the PAWS dog.” – (Leslie, parent)
Other parents have reported:
- Their children enjoy reading to the animals, increasing their motivation to read.
- The animals are natural incentives that encourage children to read.
- Pets are not judgmental, they do not criticize, and allow the children to read at their own pace.
- The PAWS program makes reading aloud a less stressful event for the child.
Interested in participating in Paws to Read? Find times and dates for upcoming Paws to Read programs at www.cmlibrary.org/calendar. (Keyword search for “Paws to Read”)