Kay Allport brings many years of experience as a teacher and teacher librarian connecting children with literature to share a rewarding and valuable volunteer group that she now works with. Meet Kay and story dog Taylor as you discover Story Dogs and the powerful connections made between children and their assigned dog team as they build their literacy skills.
After I retired at the end of last year, I decided to combine my love of dogs and love of children’s books and joined the Story Dog program. Two NSW mothers started Story Dogs in 2009 with 4 Story Dogs Teams at Murwillumbah Primary. The program now has 500 volunteer teams across Australia, working with 2300 children each week.
The program is free and available to both state and private primary schools. The volunteers visit the same school every week, same day and same time, for approximately a two-hour block of time. There are quite a few schools in Tasmania benefiting from the Story Dogs program, but there are many others that would welcome a visit. Dog sponsors are needed, including on the ground in Tasmania. Can you help?
The dogs must have a good temperament and pass an accreditation test carried out by a certified Dog Team assessor. All dogs must have an annual vet check, vaccinations, council registration and be groomed before going into school.
The dog’s owner must do a six-hour course in basic literacy. This ensures the handler will not judge the child and will be able to help in ways that will best improve the child’s reading. Dog Teams are fully insured, and handlers must have a Working with Vulnerable People (Children) Card.
The children are usually from Stage 1, primarily Year 2 but could be Year 3, 4 or 5 students who have missed out due to health issues, absenteeism, home environment or are just not sufficiently motivated. Students are chosen by the school and parental consent is required. Reading sessions take place in a quiet area of the school. A reading session is approximately 20 minutes long, where each child is one-on-one with the Dog Team.
My dog, Taylor, and I go to Bowen Road Primary. Having put on our orange Story Dog jackets, we collect a student from the classroom and return the child after the session. In the session, I speak for the dog, such as “Taylor doesn’t understand what is happening on this page, could you help her out?” The child then becomes the teacher and confidence soars! Other times the child asks questions such as “Will Taylor bark if I get a word wrong?” I say “No, she will wink at me and I will help you.” When Taylor laid down to listen to a child read and closed her eyes, the child asked, “Is Taylor asleep?” I said “No, she listens better with her eyes closed!”
Each child brings a levelled home reader to read to Taylor and then the student chooses one of 6 picture books provided by Story Dogs for us to read together. At the end of each session, I fill in a Weekly Record Sheet noting books read and if there were any difficulties while the child chooses a dog sticker to go on their own Story Dog bookmark. This provides a visual, showing how many sessions they have read to Taylor. Some children take it a step further and show Taylor the sheet of stickers and ask her to pick one! (Sometimes I have to ‘guide’ Taylor’s head to help her choose!)
Please check out storydogs.org.au which has more detailed information or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Teacher Librarian (Retired)