Have you ever read a story to a golden retriever? Or shared a picture book with a beagle? That’s the experience many children are having with an innovative program called “Paws to Read” offered at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. It’s the beginning step in turning reluctant readers into confident readers.
The Paws to Read program has been offered at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library for many years. It was first introduced at the Morrison branch, but is now offered regularly at 11 Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branches (Davidson, Hickory Grove, ImaginOn, Independence, Mint Hill, Matthews, North County, Scaleybark, South County, Steele Creek, and University City). The program is pretty simple in concept. During 15-minute sessions, children boost reading skills and confidence by reading to a certified therapy dog. Most participants are school-age children, and many students who participate are extremely shy about their reading abilities. They may feel intimidated about reading with a person, but they don’t feel this same shyness with a friendly dog. This gentle and friendly environment gives the child a comfortable space to practice and build confidence and comfort with the printed word.
Once a child builds more confidence, they may feel ready to move into the Reading Buddies program, currently offered at 13 Library branches (Beatties Ford Road, Cornelius, Davidson, Independence, Mint Hill, Matthews, Mountain Island, North County, Scaleybark, South County, Steele Creek, University City and West Boulevard). In this program, children can work on developing reading fluency and comprehension by reading aloud with an adult or teen buddy. Gradually they will begin to think of themselves as a “reader,” and a child's self-identity as a reader is one predictor of their future success with reading.*
Though these two programs work one-on-one with children, there is a larger community goal that the Library—in partnership with Read Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools—is attempting to help address: to double the percentage of 3rd grade students reading at grade level from 40% now to 80% in 2025. This is a pressing need. According to research from Read Charlotte, “More than half of all third graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not reading at grade level and they come from every single school, neighborhood and income level in this county.” Additional research shows that students who are struggling with reading in the third grade are likely to have trouble in all subjects, because reading is so essential to learning in grades four through 12. Programs like Paws to Read and Reading Buddies can help children get back on track with reading at an early age.
The impacts are felt by participants, parents and volunteers. Cindy, a librarian at the Independence Regional Library, shared a story from Steve, one of the volunteers with Paws to Read. "Steve had an epiphany during his first reading session when the mother of one of our young readers became emotional, as she had never heard her child read aloud before. At the end of the session, Steve actually said to me that he was so moved by the mother’s emotion and had a much better understanding of his role as a volunteer – that he was able to make a difference in the educational needs of a child."
- Interested in participating? Find times and dates for upcoming Paws to Read and Reading Buddies programs at www.cmlibrary.org/calendar. (Keyword search for “Paws to Read” or “Reading Buddies.”)
- Want to help? The Library is always looking for volunteers to help with these two important programs. Information on current volunteer opportunities and their requirements is available at https://www.cmlibrary.org/volunteer.
- Do you have a story to share? Tell us here.
*Source: Becoming a Nation of Readers, Commission on Reading