GPL Column: Helping a child succeed at reading

As a mother of a dyslexic child, I know the frustrations and heartbreak of trying to help a child succeed at reading. Learning to read for many children is a tortuous task that can result in a great deal of anxiety for the child and family.

One of my favorite stories is of a girl who was on the autism spectrum and had firmly decided that she was not going to learn to read! After a year of testing, cajoling, threatening, and bribery her parents were about to give up. She had a very high IQ and a will of iron.

While checking on events in the news, her mother read about a program at Greenwood Public Library where a child could sign up to read with a therapy dog. One of her daughter’s fondest wishes was to own a dog but her father suffered from allergies. Her mom told her that she could join the library program and spend time with the dog if she would try to learn how to read. They traveled across two counties to attend the program at GPL and the experiment worked. Within a year the girl was reading fluently and on level.

A dog may be a man’s best friend, but they also might be a teacher’s best friend. For close to 20 years our library has been offering these reading programs with therapy dogs. This year we are partnering with Paws and Think of Indianapolis which supplies therapy dogs to many libraries in central Indiana. These programs have many benefits. Because dogs are not judgmental, a child’s anxiety about reading aloud is greatly reduced. Reluctant readers enjoy being able to read without correction while cuddling with a loving canine. Scientists have also found that interacting with a dog increases oxytocin, the hormone, which boosts a sense of well-being. We have seen the success that reading to a therapy dog can bring not only in the girl mentioned above, but in countless other children as well.

Trying to motivate a child to practice their reading skills can be made easier by scheduling a visit every Thursday evening in February at the Greenwood Public Library’s Paws to Read program. We will be offering the program again in April.

Of course, our Paws to Read program is just one of many resources we have available at GPL to help with early literacy. Besides the benefits of practicing reading aloud, my child was helped greatly by one-on-one tutoring with an Orton Gillingham-trained educator. This is an evidence-based intervention that provides multi-sensory, explicit, systematic, and sequential phonetic instruction. Stop in at the GPL Children’s Desk to find a plethora of helpful materials on the OG method and a list of vetted tutors. Many of our local elementary schools are having their teachers trained in this method through the MA Rooney Foundation, Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, and Marian University’s Center for Vibrant Learning. The results have been amazing.

Learning to read is at the heart of Greenwood Public Library, and whether it is with the assistance of a furry friend or a well-trained tutor, we are here with the resources you need to help your child succeed.

LoriAnne Boone is a Kids Assistant at Greenwood Public Library. GPL staff members share in writing this twice-monthly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected]