They are called merle, filou or nugget, they are friendly, stress-resistant and they are good with children: so they have the best prerequisites to take away the fear of reading aloud from elementary school children in the bamberg region in the future. For three days, ten dog owners and their four-legged friends were trained by the johanniter in upper franconia to become reading dog teams – in theory and in practice.
"You go into the reading room with the child and give your dog a few minutes to explore the room and get to know the child a bit, then find a nice spot with the child and call your dog in": helmut winter, who is responsible for training the reading dog teams at the johannitern, gives tips for the reading meetings and looks at how the dog and dog owner handle the situation. Ultimately, the aim is to create a relaxed and calm atmosphere in which the children can concentrate fully on the dog and reading aloud to it.
The animals accept the children as they are, without being prejudiced, and even shy or fearful children find it easier to make contact with animals – this is what animal-assisted intervention makes use of in various areas, and this is also the basis for the success of the reading dogs: the dog simply listens patiently, does not criticize any mistakes and does not laugh at anyone. In this protected environment, the children can improve their reading skills and lose their fear of reading aloud.
"In central franconia, the johanniter have been using reading dogs for a long time, and we are pleased that this is now happening in bamberg as well", explains project manager tobias eckardt. "From now on, elementary schools from the region are welcome to contact us if they are interested. The reading dog teams then visit 'their' pupils at school every week: there, the children read to the reading dog for 20 minutes at a time."
Tasks clearly outlined
Anja gerber, who will be there with her dog merle, is already looking forward to the first game: "i would like to do something for the children. Finally, I would also be happy if my daughter got such support if necessary. Besides, i think it's good to do something with my dog, and merle is learning something, too." The task of the dog handlers, such as anja gerber, is also clearly defined in the reading sessions: the interaction takes place between the reading dog and the child, the dog owners remain in the background, only giving small help with the reading and praising the children when they have read their story aloud.
During the practical training with merle and her reading dog colleagues, everything runs smoothly: sometimes a little slower, sometimes a little faster, children and dogs find their way to each other – one reads, the other patiently listens. "Over time, the children develop a personal relationship with their reading dog and become more and more open to it. That's why it's important that the same dog always visits 'his' child and that the chemistry between the dog team and the child is right", tells helmut winter. If it doesn't work out, a new team will be looked for. But he has no worries about the freshly qualified upper franconian reading dogs: "the dogs are all very suitable, i'm almost a bit jealous that they are active in upper and not in central franconia".