Dogs to the rescue : Dogs encourage kids to read in Estonia

A library in high-tech Estonia is getting
children to read out loud to man’s best friend to boost their confidence. Tentel, the long-haired
Afghan Hound, a peppy Golden Retriever named Elli and a fluffy Newfoundland named Leero
lend their ears at the library in the eastern city of Tartu twice a month. “For kids who
have problems with reading or low self esteem, there is no better therapy than to practise
reading aloud to a dog,” says Ewa Roots, a manager who is part of the innovative educational
project. “Dogs are calm listeners and unlike other kids or adults, will never be critical
when a child makes mistakes while reading,” she adds. “Sessions with dogs boost self confidence
and children start to feel secure to express themselves,” she adds. The innovative educational
project launched in February is free of charge and available to all children who want to
participate. Most are five- to six-years-old, and some are up to 10, and there is even one
16-year-old. Literacy in this tiny ex-Soviet European Union country of just 1.3 million
people is already 100 per cent for citizens who are 15 years of age and older, according
to the latest World Bank figures. Dubbed e-Estonia, the Baltic state gave the world the Skype
communicator which is renowned as an IT trailblazer and ranks as one of the world’s most connected
countries. But taking a decidedly more low-tech approach to communication, the library in
Tartu encourages youngsters to have eight to 10 half-hour sessions of reading to their
new four-legged friends. “Children first decide which dog they like the most,” Roots explains,
adding that the reading sessions are held in one large room for an added sense of security.
“When a shy child sees someone starting to read to their dog, they will soon do the same,”
she notes. Children can bring their own books to the sessions or choose the reading items
from the library. Leero was happy to listen to Harti, a delighted six-year-old boy, read
Winnie-the-Pooh for about 20 minutes. Five-year-old Kevin chose Elli as his audience. But Tentel
fell asleep on six-year-old Ingrid, who nevertheless kept on reading and showing pictures from
the book Ice Age with gusto. Roots says she has heard of children reading to ponies and
even pigs instead of canines in other countries. The library is also encouraging children with
pet dogs to read to them in the comfort of their own homes.

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