Hingham Public Library invites children to read to dogs

When Henry McDevitt, 8, first started reading therapy dogs at the Hingham Public Library four years ago, he couldn’t read, but he was telling dogs stories and flipping through the pages of his favorite Curious George books. .

Now he’s reading the seventh book of Harry Potter, his mother Diana McDevitt said.

Although the Hingham Public Library’s Read-to-a-Dog program went virtual during the pandemic, they now offer 15-minute in-person and virtual reading sessions to help children build confidence. without judgement. zoned.

Dogs at the library

Toni Burnham of Hingham, was one of two dog owners who started the program over five years ago, when they pitched the idea to children’s librarian Totsie McGonagle.

“The idea is that for young or new readers, reading to a dog is non-judgmental,” Burnham said. “They don’t worry about corrections like we would a teacher or an adult. So it’s kind of a more relaxed environment … builds confidence, just less stressful.”

The dogs have been certified as therapy and reading dogs under Scituate’s Dog BONES (Building Opportunities for Nurturing and Emotional Support) program, Burnham said.

The library currently has four “listening teams” of dogs, from a golden retriever to a schnauzer, and their human partners who rotate their shifts in the library for an hour each Saturday, McGonagle said. Children, who are usually around four years old, bring their own book or find one at the library to read to the dog.

“There is a boy who signed up during COVID and he’s reading like a professional now,” McGonagle said. “He’s doing so well.”

Encourage children to read

Burnham, who always brings her 11-year-old Shih Tzu Boo to listen to avid readers, said they usually see good readers who already love to read come to the library for the program.

Still, there are exceptions, Burnham said. A parent, who was the math teacher at Burnham’s daughter’s college, brought her special needs daughter to read to dogs, Burnham said.

“And she brought it back specifically a few times because I think she thought it was helpful for her daughter,” Burnham said.

Ava Cassler, 6, from Hingham reads to Bella with her brother, James, 4, during the Read to a Dog program at Hingham Public Library on Saturday 25 September 2021.

Ultimately, Burnham said that any way a library can encourage kids to visit and read is great.

“It doesn’t matter if they read more for the novelty of reading to a dog,” Burnham said. “But, you know what, at the end of the day they read.”

Burnham and Boo were also spending their time at Hingham’s East Primary School before the pandemic, giving students in every second year class a chance to read to their dog.

Every January, Burnham had around 100 children read to Boo in classrooms, she said.

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“Dogs are great because they totally put you in the moment,” Burnham said. “You don’t worry about what you have to do or something you just did. I think that’s all part of it for the kids, it’s [they are] just really focused on the experience of stroking it and reading.

Henry McDevitt, 8, of Hingham Pets Bella after reading a book to her during the weekly Read to a Dog program at Hingham Public Library on Saturday 25 September 2021.

Diana McDevitt said she and her husband would bring Henry McDevitt to the library to read to therapy dogs before the pandemic, and they re-enrolled him after returning from the in-person sessions.

“I know he really loves service dogs,” said Diana McDevitt. “He mentioned to me that when you stop reading the dog starts to whimper a bit. And he’s just a really caring boy when it comes to animals. He loves reading to his little sister, and every time. that he’s lucky to be with dogs, he’s so excited.

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