It was interesting to see a feature recently in the media on a “reading dog”, Fernie, who was part of the staff at a primary school. Aged only two years old, Fernie was able to read and respond to flash cards – although judging by his performance on “This Morning” some homework might be needed to truly embed that skill!
Joking aside, it is well established that dogs in school offer real benefits to children; that goes for staff and parents too. There is something very calming about the presence of a dog; research has showed the act of stroking can lower blood pressure. Certainly reading to a dog has been proven to raise confidence in children, reducing stress levels and making them less self-conscious. The charity Bark and Read attribute it in part to the non-judgmental canine response – unless you count a wagging tale!
For so many of our girls it is simply impossible to have a dog in families where both parents work; it is lovely to see them over-coming fears and getting to know Florence, Blackheath High Juniors’ resident dog. Florence has been coming to school for over three years now. Assemblies are something of a challenge (just too exciting) but she has been a regular, generally authorised, observer of Chamber Choir practices in the hall. A little band of Year 5 and 6 girls take particular care of her but most of the time she hogs a sofa in my office where she has visits from girls through-out the day. I get the benefit of a relaxed chat with them while Florence gets a cuddle. Girls who have been upset are calmed quickly – ditto parents and staff.
While girls have read to Florence, even at six years old she cannot match Fernie in her own reading ability. I’m happy that she hasn’t acquired any literacy skills; I fear a doggie email to the NSPCA, complaining about enforced attendance at Health and Safety meetings, so she will not be attending booster classes, receiving one to one support or getting extra homework to remedy the situation; she will however continue to be available for stroking therapy and, being the hypoallergenic labradoodle that she is, that facility is open to all.
Mrs Sarah Skevington
Head of Juniors, Blackheath High