When dogs are the audience, youngsters improve reading skills

GRANITE FALLS — Kindergartner Tove Schweizer patiently waited until his name was called to read the book he wrote and illustrated during Family Literacy Night at Mountain Way Elementary School.

When it was his turn to read to Callie, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, he quickly took a seat alongside the dog and her owner.

“Are you ready to read to Callie?” said Jim Litz, a Reading with Rover volunteer from Mill Creek.

Tove, 6, was ready. He launched into his book, “The Three Houses.”

“Mrs. Litz said we’re going to have Reading with Rover so I thought and thought of a book that would be easy for me,” Tove said.

Litz and his wife, kindergarten teacher Olga Litz, have been volunteering with the Reading with Rover literacy program for almost a year. He frequently brings Callie to Mountain Way Elementary School so kindergartners and students who attend Family Literacy Nights can read to her.

“Some kids faithfully come read to Callie. She has her regulars,” he said. “She knows when we get in the car and put her vest on that she’s coming to work.”

Some students are hesitant to read aloud, Litz added, but they usually want to be near Callie. Students read to the dog in pairs during a recent visit to Mountain Way during the school day, he said. One student in a team read while another student, who said she didn’t want to read, petted and brushed the dog. After her classmate finished reading, Litz asked again if she wanted to read to Callie. The girl said she did.

“She read very well,” Litz said. “A lot of (students) are very self-conscious about reading aloud but when they read to a dog the dog isn’t going to judge them. In fact, some of the little kids get frustrated when (the dogs) zone out.”

Family Literacy Nights began five years ago at Monte Cristo and Mountain Way Elementary in the Granite Falls School District. The event begins after school and runs until 7 p.m. The event rotates every Monday between the two schools and gives students the chance to read with their families, check out books, take reading quizzes and complete simple craft projects.

The total attendance average so far this year for Family Literacy Nights is 65 people, said school librarian Debbie Hanby. The average increases to about 76 people on nights when Reading with Rover teams are visiting Mountain Way Elementary.

Carol Boyland taught kindergarten at Mountain Way for 22 years. The Lake Stevens resident retired from teaching over a year ago but volunteers with her 5-year-old yellow Labrador, Sam, at Family Literacy Nights.

“It’s a really nice way to give back to our school,” Boyland said. “For me it’s fun to see (students) now and see how much they’ve improved in their reading.”

Kindergartner Katie Thorp has attended Family Literacy Nights since the school year began. She has two dogs at home but said that she likes reading to dogs that come to her school.

“I like to read to both Callie and Sam,” Katie said.

She read a book about a dog titled “Bathtime for Biscuit” to Callie and waited for her name to be called from a long list of students who wanted to read to Sam.

“My mom usually brings her,” said Carrie Thorp, Katie’s mother. “They’re definitely big fans. They love coming to this.”

Washington Reading Corps members help run the Family Literacy Nights, which are scheduled throughout the school year, said school librarian Debra Hanby. The program also is scheduled to be hosted during the summer at the Granite Falls Library, Hanby said.

“The dog teams have agreed that at least three times during the summer they’ll go to the public library because they have quite a following,” she said. “We just really love having this … it helps parents understand why they need to help their kids read.”

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; adaybert@heraldnet.com.

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