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On Cheetahs and Reading to Animals

For some time now, teachers have been using animals to help children’s reading skills. Studies have shown that students who struggle with or dislike reading can develop self-esteem issues. By sitting down next to a dog and reading to this patient, welcoming “friend,” all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Along with the practice comes much needed self-esteem, and reading is associated with something pleasant.

What is less well known is that even high achievers benefit from reading aloud to animals. One teacher likened the gifted child to a cheetah, who is built to run fast. However, certain needs must be met for the cheetah to run at top speed. They need to be healthy, they need plenty of room to run, and they need to be motivated to race, primarily through intense hunger. When these beautiful animals are caged in zoos or are sick, they are not capable of reaching their potential speed.cheeta_running

Too often, the normal schoolroom setting becomes like a cage for gifted children — a limited space for a mind that needs to run at full speed. Even apart from having to learn their ABC’s at a pace that the whole classroom can manage, such high achievers may feel isolated from their peers and often put pressure on themselves to be perfect. Like cheetahs, these kids need a wide open place to take risks — to run free. And for them, too, animal-assisted literacy experiences become a space to be released from their internal pressures and to simply enjoy reading and writing.

And who’s to say that the animals don’t benefit? They get out of their cages and stalls, get to spend time with small, non-judgmental humans, and best of  all – they are valued for simply being themselves. Not too many animals get that.


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