Most kids know that lots of memorable stories begin with the phrase “Once Upon A Time”. From there, tales can take a scary, funny, mysterious, or sweet turn. Within each new book, an exciting adventure filled with wild horses, pirates, ghosts, spaceships, or perhaps a child just like them awaits.
But what if, once upon a time, a child has difficulty reading at grade level? Or out loud? Or in front of a classroom full of peers? Then what?
For over 15 years, LAPP (Larimer Animal-People Partnership) has been conducting unique sessions for children designed to improve reading skills and confidence, reported the group’s Fort Collins leader, Amy Fristoe.
LAPP, an umbrella organization for animal therapy teams, certifies potential volunteers through Pet Partners or Alliance For Therapy Dogs (ATD). One of the group’s goals is to promote awareness and education about the human-animal bond, which influences behaviors essential to the health and well-being (including emotional) of both.
LAPP-hosted informal get-togethers, called Sunday Animal Afternoons At the Library, present youngsters unique opportunities to read aloud on the first, second and fourth Sundays each month at alternating Fort Collins library branches, where non-judgmental (and cuddly) beings attentively listen.
Usually dogs or cats, but over the years other LAPP creatures have included rabbits, a pot-bellied pig, one mini-horse, and a mini-donkey. Hesitant children build up the courage to read aloud without adult intervention to plow through. For example, young readers can skip unfamiliar words and insert their own ideas into stories. Which is why this enjoyable program works.
February’s Sunday session at the Harmony Library Branch at Front Range Community College drew 12-15 eager young readers, six dogs of various sizes, and one amazingly amiable cat.
Proudly representing LAPP’s four- and two-legged volunteers were Quinn, a 7-year-old spotted standard-size Poodle owned by Deborah Barone; Marge Berkowitz’s grey 8-year-old Lucy, also a standard Poodle; a 10-year-old, very large and calm, long-haired white English Setter mix, Lilly, brought by owner Casey Bruton; Pat Athey’s irresistible little Winston, a lively, petite rescue terrier; and Amy Fristoe’s dynamic duo: 12-year-old black Lab Claudeen Jean, and her feline friend —an Oxycat— Bernie Beau Fristoe (perhaps the most mellow kitty in the entire world!).
Children excitedly chose books from a hodgepodge of displayed options such as Later, Gator; Count Your Chickens; Scooter in the Outside. The selection process initially resembled a game of Musical Chairs as wide-eyed kids circled the long table, hoping to capture their favorite before someone else did.
Some youngsters read to each animal while making a slow loop around the big room. A couple preferred to plop down for the entire hour to enjoy a cozy snuggle with their most-preferred critter. One quiet boy watched others read while he gathered up the courage to pet dozing Bernie Beau. Regardless of a child’s style of interaction, it all worked out perfectly.
Meanwhile, the only parental role was an observer (and coat/scarf/water bottle monitor).
Fristoe recalled one particular girl who frequently read to the animals several years ago. Now grown, she has her own emotional support dog she hopes to get registered into LAPP for future children to read to. Others who read with LAPP in preschool but are now aged-out have commented to Fristoe how much they always loved coming.
If your children would like to read to the animals bring them to the appropriate library branch on its matching Sunday between 3:00-4:00 PM. Old Town Library is the first Sunday every month; Council Tree Library, on the 2nd; Harmony Library on FRCC campus on the 4th Sunday.
Pet owners can learn more about certification through Pet Partners, Alliance For Therapy Dogs or LAPP and its library events by visiting www.colapp.org . Or call the Poudre River Public Library District at 970 221-6740.