Reading to Animals at a Shelter Helps Kids and Critters Alike

By Sher Warkentin in Helping Hands

Reading to cats and dogs might sound like a far-fetched way to help out at a rescue shelter, but it can actually make a big impact on the animals and young readers alike. Programs that involve kids reading to animals have been popping up all over the country, and they are a super easy and fun way to volunteer with your family.

Reading to animals has so many benefits for all.

The Benefits of Books

Reading to animals is actually not a new concept. For years, there have been programs available through public libraries and other organizations, like ARF!, that invite kids to spend time reading out loud to specially trained therapy dogs.

Reading out loud has many benefits, no matter what reading level your child has reached. Animals don't judge a child's reading skills, which may encourage hesitant or struggling readers to practice and gain confidence. Reading aloud to animals helps improve literacy skills and has a positive effect on attitudes about reading in young learners. One study by the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University shows that when kids read aloud to animals versus their peers, they were much more motivated to read, and their academic reading attitudes significantly increased.

Animals, it turns out, also benefit from story time. While trained therapy dogs already have homes and companionship, animals in shelters are often lonely and in need of interaction. Reading to animals at a shelter can give them some much needed one-on-one time with a companion in a calm, non-stressful setting. It can also help skittish dogs and cats develop social skills that give them a better chance of being adopted.

Check with local rescue groups to find a volunteer program.

Volunteering With Animals Near Me

The success of reading to animals, for children and pets alike, may inspire more rescue organizations to establish their own programs specifically for kids to volunteer at local shelters. The Humane Society of Missouri is an organization with a Shelter Buddies Reading Program that invites kids ages six to fifteen to help out at a local shelter. Accompanied by their parents, the kids sit outside of the dogs' kennels and read to the pups.

The best way to get started in your area is by contacting city shelters and asking if they have a reading program. Local rescue groups are another good contact to try if your neighborhood shelter doesn't have a program established.

Getting Started

Once you find a reading program in your area, consider if this type of volunteer opportunity is a good fit for your kids. If you're a parent to young tots, you might want to wait until they are school-aged and have already started learning how to read. Your family's relationship with animals is also important to think about. If your child is scared of animals or has a hard time sitting still, this type of volunteer opportunity might not be the best match. You might also try a reading program that works with trained dogs first to see how comfortable your child feels before visiting a shelter.

There's also the emotional factor to consider. Children might become easily attached to the animals they are reading to, which can lead to conversations about wanting to adopt an animal. Make sure you're ready to handle those talks before you volunteer.

One of the wonderful parts of volunteering with your kids is that it often benefits your family as well as the shelter. Reading to animals is a great way to give back because you'll be helping your kids grow and learn, too.

Has your family ever participated in a reading to animals program? Share your experience with us on Twitter.

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Why It’s Good

Reading to animals can be especially rewarding for young kids who are developing their literacy and social skills. Plus, it helps socialize animals to increase their chances of being adopted. Being able to help others while you help your family is a total win-win.