By LOIS KINDLE
For some kids, learning to read, especially in front of others, doesn’t come easily. Sometimes it takes something or someone a bit different to give them the confidence to try.
At Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma, that something different is Daisy, a 23-month-old certified therapy dog, owned by retired music teacher Ellen Kleinschmidt.
Every Friday, she and her mini goldendoodle hit the road to work with a trio of struggling 3rd-graders, chosen by their teachers for “Reading with Daisy.”
“Research shows kids enjoy reading to animals because they don’t feel judged in any way,” said Kleinschmidt, who facilitates each individual 30-minute session. “Daisy enjoys interacting with the students and likes being involved. She cannot wait to go to work on Friday.”
Third-grade teacher Christiana Torres has two of the three students currently in the program. According to her, Daisy is making a difference.
“About a month in, I noticed my students were more excited about reading,” she said. “They’re finding it more fun. With Daisy, they’ve gotten into the habit of actually looking at words and then reading them to her.”
Sitting on the floor in the school’s Zen Den next to the pup and Kleinschmidt makes each child feel more comfortable. Kleinschmidt decorates it each week in all things Daisy. She chooses books for the kids to read like Don’t Lick the Dog and Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild, has a special reading blanket and posts Daisy’s poster outside the door and bright orange pawprints leading to the room.
She even has a two-handled leash for the students to help walk Daisy to and from the Zen Den. They get a paw-print sticker for spending time with her, a Daisy-inspired jelly bracelet and a picture of them with Daisy.
“Reading to Daisy builds their self-confidence and self-esteem,” Kleinschmidt said. “They do this in a safe environment where no one makes fun of or critiques them. Daisy doesn’t care whether they read fast or slow.”
Kleinschmidt’s is Daisy’s voice. She occasionally takes turns reading with the children, helps them sound out words and discusses what some of the words mean.
Otherwise, it’s all about the child and Daisy.
When the program started this fall, Kleinschmidt first met with all kids in the two 3rd-grade classes she would eventually draw students from. As an orientation, she read the story, Stanley, the Reading Dog to them, introduced Daisy and talked about the dog’s life so far. She also discussed how to meet and pet a dog.
It was a way for them to understand what she and Daisy do.
The pair are a registered R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) team. They are one of more than 6,000 such teams from around the nation and 25 countries across the world.
As a R.E.A.D. team, Daisy and Kleinschmidt can go into libraries and schools, where she is trained to provide love and comfort to everyone she meets.
For more information on Reading with Daisy, call 813-666-9196. To learn more about the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, visit www.therapydogs.org. For information on R.E.A.D., visit www.therapyanimals.org.