One of the three pillars of the Dogtopia Foundation is youth literacy. The Dogtopia Foundation partnered with SitStayRead, a Chicago-based organization focused on “advancing children’s literacy skills using an engaging curriculum, certified dogs, and dedicated volunteers.”
September 8th is known as International Literacy Day and to celebrate, we spoke to SitStayRead’s Executive Directo Amy Taylor about the organization, their mission, and the importance of children’s literacy.
Q: How did you get involved with SitStayRead?
A: I was hired as the Executive Director in January 2021. I was drawn to the mission because of the loving and inspirational way the organization approached teaching young kids how to read through dog-assisted learning.
Q: How long has SitStayRead been in action?
A: In 2003, three women active in the field of animal-assisted therapy needed a way to refocus the work of their aging dogs in a less active setting. Originally conceived as a community outreach program at Call of the Wild School for Dogs, the pilot was hosted at a local library. The focus shifted shortly after to school settings with a specialized curriculum. Since then, SitStayRead has served 18,800 students in 808 classrooms at 17 partner schools.
Q: Why is children’s literacy so important?
A: SitStayRead focuses on children’s literacy because it is the best way to ensure all kids have a chance to thrive in school and life. The achievement gap begins with the literacy gap, yet many children are not given the time and skills to build a foundation for reading to close the gap. Here in Chicago, 60 percent of incoming kindergarten students are not adequately prepared in language and literacy skills upon entering school. We know this is the case for most children growing up in large urban areas. Children without the necessary literacy skills can fall behind quickly, and the consequences last a lifetime. Around third grade, the curriculum switches from focusing on learning to read to reading to learn. Children who are not reading proficiently by the fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time — hindering their chances to live a happy, healthy, productive life.
Q: What are some of the main benefits you see by allowing children to read to dogs?
A: By bringing dogs into the classroom, we see children’s social skills positively impacted. Some of the most noticeable benefits we see when children read to our dogs include improved self-confidence and communication, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and increased emotional development. By creating a positive social environment, we make the process and practice of reading both enjoyable and meaningful.
Q: How does reading to dogs boost a child’s confidence?
A: By bringing dogs into the classroom, SitStayRead immediately creates a safe and fun environment. When children read to dogs, they have a nonjudgmental reading partner ready to receive the story. Dogs provide positive affirmation to kids by listening and cuddling to ensure children feel supported.
Q: What are some of the benefits the dog receives from listening to a child read, in your opinion?
A: Dogs also receive a positive social interaction and the bond of new friends outside of their owner. Many of our literacy volunteers share that their dogs show excitement when they approach the schools and realize they are going to see the kids.
International Literacy Day brings awareness to the importance of learning and our students’ ongoing need of support. The Dogtopia Foundation is a proud partner of SitStayRead, an organization that is doing its part to ensure a bright future for students in Chicago Public Schools.
The Dogtopia Foundation greatly appreciates Amy Taylor for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. To learn more about SitStayRead or get involved with their initiatives, click here.