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A participant of the Reading to Dogs event reads to Lilly, a trained Coastal Carolina Pet Provided Therapy dog and her facilitator, Pat Rapaport at the Harriotte B. Smith Library aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jan. 11.

Photo by Cpl. Miranda Blackburn

Reading to dogs helps kids boost self-esteem

18 Jan 2012 | Cpl. Miranda Blackburn

A young child and her mother sit next to Lilly, an attentive golden retriever. As they sit next to her, the girl comfortably reads a book aloud while petting and playing with the furry friend.

Hosted by the Exceptional Family Member Program, Coastal Carolina Pet Provided Therapy offered a fun way for children to learn to read at the Harriotte B. Smith Library aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Jan. 11.

For some children one of the biggest challenges in learning to read is the embarrassment of making mistakes, but with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs program, participating kids can make enormous strides in reading and communication skills while along the way, building self-esteem, confidence and social skills.

The program was launched in 1999 as the first comprehensive literacy program built aroundthe appealing idea of reading to dogs, and the program has been spreading rapidly ever since.

"Some children really have a hard time reading, especially our exceptional family members and we really want to encourage them to read and what better way to do that than with a dog," said Christina Diederich, EFMP training, education and outreach specialist.

When a READ dog is listening, the environment is transformed, a child's dread is replaced by eager anticipation and learning occurs.

The dog handler is a skills facilitator, too.

Shifting performance pressure off the child, facilitators make sure they get the supervised reading practicenecessary to build vocabulary to increase understanding of the material and gain fluency as a reader.

The READ program utilizes registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament.

"The READ program is based out of Utah and the whole purpose is to help children have a better self-esteem," said Pat Rapaport, a facilitator with Coastal Carolina Pet Provided Therapy. "Children who are having trouble reading can read to a dog and they don't have to feel any kind of pressure. There's no stress, no one is critisizing them and they don't have any peers making fun of them."

Coastal Carolina Pet Provided Therapy also provides services at nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, libraries and more.

"Reading is the foundation of everything and to read to dogs is pretty special," added Rapaport.

The next Reading to Dogs event will be held April 25 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Harriotte B. Smith Library.

Families must pre-register by the Monday prior to the event date by calling 451-4103.