[Editor’s note: written by Joanne O’Dea, team leader in Prestbury library about their project Paws for Reading which recently won the David Vaisey prize.]
Why did we launch this project?
As a team we’re always looking out for new ideas to encourage people to visit Prestbury Library, a small community focused library in Gloucestershire. On top of this we wanted an idea to enter for the David Vaisey Prize, an annual competition that awards £5,000 to the best new project running in a Gloucestershire library.
We all got our thinking caps on and I was thrilled when Laura, Library Assistant at Prestbury, excitedly told me about Reading to Dogs schemes that run in America. This seemed like the perfect project to run in the library. Part of our job is to inspire children to catch the reading bug and this scheme seemed an ideal way to encourage reluctant readers to improve their reading skills. Evidence shows that children feel less anxious when reading to dogs. After all a dog won’t try to correct you - he’ll just sit and listen!
Soon we were having a chat with Debbie from Cheltenham Animal Shelter and were really pleased that she was as enthusiastic as we were. Next we had to find a school to join us - so were delighted when Rachel Jones and her class from The Ridge Academy, a school for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), agreed to take part.
We planned to hold monthly sessions alternating between the library and animal shelter. Laura and I have loved planning and running the library sessions. There are a few fun activities to do at each session, including literacy based games, reading activities or choosing books to take home, and of course everyone has the chance to read to the rescue dog!
We were now all set to go and our first session was in November 2017. Ten students came along to meet Joey the dog and get reading. Joey loved the attention as you can see from the picture!
How did it go?
To be honest after the first session, we had some doubts. It was hard to manage at times and the children were reluctant to join in. They did love the dog though!
While the start was tricky, we relish a challenge and are so glad that we kept going. Each month the children have grown more confident and have actively taken part in the sessions. Laura chatted to them about their interests and then found books to match. This made reading more fun for them. I enjoyed planning other activities for the children when they weren’t reading to the dog.
One student said: Thank you for my super cars book. Jeremy Clarkson is funny.
We were also extremely lucky to have a regular library user, Julie, come on board as a volunteer. Julie is hugely enthusiastic and amazing with the children. Her stories at the end of each session have the children completely engrossed.
The David Vaisey Prize
This year 14 libraries entered and we were thrilled to be shortlisted along with 3 other libraries.
Some of the judges, including writers Rachel Joyce and Jamila Gavin, visited a session. We were really happy that all went well and the judges loved what we were doing. One comment they made was: “These children clearly had big difficulties with reading. They shuffled, they stumbled, some of them really didn’t want to read, but something about the patience of the dog, made them try.”
On 7 October we went to the Award Ceremony at Cheltenham Literature Festival and were over the moon to win the first prize. Especially as Michael Morpurgo gave out the prizes!
It has been so rewarding to see the children flourishing and really looking forward to their next library visit.The project has been hugely enjoyable and winning the prize was the icing on the cake!
We are very excited that the project is continuing and the prize money will help us to develop the project further. We have already met this year’s students. Just like our four legged friends, we hope that Paws for Reading will run and run and lots more students benefit from the scheme!
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce