This year my class started reading to dogs. You read that right. We meet at a shelter or rescue and we read to dogs. I can’t wait to share with you how we organized this activity, got the parents and students excited, and make this volunteering an experience to remember.
Reading to Dogs Idea Began
My husband and I have always been fans of rescuing animals. Our first two dogs came from an animal shelter. This past Spring, we found our current dog at a local animal rescue. You can see the “gotcha” day with my family and our sweet puppy Aspen above. Not only did we fall in love with this sweet puppy, we really loved how many good things this shelter was doing for dogs. Family members of ours volunteer there and we wanted to be able to give back to this organization. The idea for reading to dogs began.
How to Organize
First, I contacted this specific animal rescue to see if they allows 5 and 6 year old children to come read to dogs. I was excited to learn they did, with valid restrictions. Their parents had to sign the volunteering form and be present the entire time. I only asked for my students to be outside the dogs kennels for safety reasons. I also liked this particular rescue because they post the dogs pictures and name on their kennel with the information about if they are safe with children. If they have newer dogs they are not sure of, the have a color coded sign and a drape is put up so I can easily keep my little ones away.
Get Parent Support Before You Tell Students
Then, I looked at health cards for dog allergies and talked to my parents about the idea. I was up front about the rescue’s requirements from the start. I needed their buy in to make this work. I got a great response and almost all my parents loved the idea instantly. Once we had parents support, I told my parents I was taking this idea to their students.
Here is what I emailed out to parents:
Parents, I have an idea that I want your feedback on. I want to do a special out of school bonus reward for students. Here is my idea- students would get to meet me at (center name and address) on a set day and time. We would volunteer to practice our reading skills to read to (location’s name) dogs. Parents sign waivers and stay. It won’t be long, maybe 30 minutes. All dogs would be in kennels. We sit outside the kennels to read to them on blankets. We can do 5 students at a time. I can’t think of a better way to practice reading. What are your thoughts?
Setting Up for Classroom Success
Now that parents were excited, I presented the idea to my class. I set a goal for them to reach and told them WHEN, not if, they reach this goal, we would meet at the animal rescue and read to dogs. Honestly, most couldn’t wait and wanted to go right away. Some were a little hesitant because they didn’t have dogs of their own at home, but not one student said no way. When I explained that we would see the dogs but not have to touch any dog we didn’t want to, they all loved it.
Now, I set up a simple chart in my classroom to sign up for slots. I didn’t want to take too many students in at one time, so I decided that 5 students would go each time. As students met the reading goal I set, they signed their name. As we got closer to all 5 slots being filled, the excitement grew and I sent out reminders to families. Finally, this past Wednesday the last slot for round one was filled. I had my 5 students to take.
Take a Small Group
Now, I contacted the shelter again to remind them our plans. I wanted to make sure this weekend worked and there was no sickness outbreak or kennel construction going on. They said this weekend worked. I packed a bag of books, several towels, and bottles of water to take with me. I know that many students play sports so I have to take their schedules into consideration. I have one student who is moving soon and he is so close to his goal. We decided to let him come to this event so he didn’t miss out.
Make a Schedule
I made 15 minute time slots and opened them up to my 5 families. Each student got to pick one. I sent them the address to the shelter and the online volunteering form. One student couldn’t make it this time, so we will pick a time for him to go soon. Families must come with their student. I also had enough books and towels that my students could read to dogs even after I read with another student or if their siblings or families wanted to read to dogs too.
Be in the Moment and Have Fun
Finally, our day to read to dogs came. All 5 families that came were so excited. I met the families there. We signed in and did the cleaning procedures. Then, we saw the dogs and picked the one that child wanted to read to. Since each child was staggered, I got 15 minutes of one on one time to sit and read with each child who came.
The Reading Impact
It was impact to show students a rescue and their dogs in need. It is also significant to show students simple ways even young learners can give back. I loved spending a few minutes with each child just reading with them. Some of the older dogs calmed down and went to sleep to my students reading. Some of the puppies got excited and playful during the reading. Some of the dogs sat at their kennels and listened. One of the most fun events was a new litter was found that morning and the runt actually ESCAPED the kennel while we were reading!
Here is another positive way to inspire learning in your classroom.