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Now dogs teach kids to read! (Virginia Woof, anyone...?)

SHE is a classroom assistant with a difference. For Skye the cocker spaniel is part of an extraordinary scheme where dogs help children learn how to read. For two hours a week, the eight-year-old pet heads to the school library to take part in a reading group. And unlike more formal lessons, where the emphasis is on teachers correcting pupils to instil in them proper grammar and pronunciation, the sessions with Skye are far more relaxed. In small groups, pupils leave their classmates and sit with the dog, her owner and a member of staff. The children take turns to read to a calm and uncritical audience of their friends – and the dog. The simple but effective scheme was introduced at one primary in Edinburgh and has proved so successful it is being introduced at 50 other schools. Skye was recruited for Gylemuir Primary in the capital by deputy headteacher Sophie Lowe, who said: ‘I know it sounds quite quirky but it’s a very positive project and has amazing results in reading,

even after just a few sessions. Skye is now one of our many tools in helping children read. Pupils love reading to her – and that love of reading stays with them.’ Mrs Lowe said she had seen details of a similar programme in England while watching Crufts dog show. She added: ‘It caught my imagination immediately and I could see how it might help children enjoy reading, especially in Primary 4. ‘At that stage, teachers start to

see some children struggling with reading, for a variety of reasons. ‘Once you lose a child to the love of reading, it can be hard to get them back and I wanted them to... get that love of reading and it looked like Skye could help with all of that.’ Reading With Dogs has seen Skye become a firm favourite. Eight-year-old May Coppola has blossomed under her calm and attentive presence, as the added challenge of being dyslexic has

always tested her confidence. She said: ‘A dog never tells you off. She just listens no matter how many times you have to try a word so I think that made me relax and enjoy reading much more. ‘Now I read to my granny’s dogs at home and they love it.’ May’s mother Chelsie said: ‘I’m delighted with the effect on May’s reading and also her confidence. ‘She was just diagnosed with dyslexia this year. She was also new to the school and I think the project

eased her into her surroundings and gave her so much more confidence.’ Nine-year-old Angus Dunn has also enjoyed learning with Skye. He said: ‘I was quite shy about reading, especially if I got anything wrong. It’s different with a dog because they just look at you and don’t say anything but I think they like it. When I’m reading to the dog I don’t think about anyone else, just about how nice it is.’ His mother Susan said: ‘Angus has far more interest in books now and he’ll happily read in front of his dad or granny when before he only read to me. I think it’s a wonderful scheme.’ Skye and owner Calum Cowan are two of the volunteers in Reading With Dogs, which is run by Canine Concern Scotland. Mr Cowan said: ‘Once we started at Gylemuir it was immediately apparent it was going to be great fun... Skye, of course, took to it straight away and proved to be a natural listener.’ Dogs involved with the project have to be registered as a Therapet with Canine Concern and work with adults for a year before being considered for work with children, while their owners must hold the relevant criminal records checks

With kind permission of Scottish Mail on Sunday 29th October

Words by Joan McFadden. Journalist & Editor

Photographer Michael Boyd (picture property of the photographer, all rights reserved, unauthorised use prohibited)

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