Ava Olerud read to Lexi, a dog who is part of the R.E.A.D. program. “It was fun to get to read to her, she just sat and listened,” Ava said with a smile. “I sometimes read to my dog, Pepper, at home, too.”
Ava Olerud read to Lexi, a dog who is part of the R.E.A.D. program. “It was fun to get to read to her, she just sat and listened,” Ava said with a smile. “I sometimes read to my dog, Pepper, at home, too.”

Learning to read is easy for some children and can be challenging for others. Having a good listener for them to read to gives the reader positive reinforcement and boosts their confidence.

This is the basis for the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program that is part of Touching Moments Animal Assisted Activities program.

Last Tuesday, one of the program's dogs, Lexi, was the special guest at Family Literacy Night at Spring Grove Public School.

Lexi visited the school with her owner and handler, Kerrie Hauser, along with Touching Moments program founder, Shelley Ellingson.

Ellingson talked to the students and parents at Family Literacy Night about the R.E.A.D. program and what Lexi does.

R.E.A.D. is a literacy program built around the idea of reading to dogs because they listen attentively, they don't judge, laugh or criticize, which in-turn allows children to proceed at their own pace. The goal of the program is to foster positive attitudes toward reading and learning.

"When a R.E.A.D. dog is listening, the environment is transformed," explained Ellingson.

"A child's dread is replaced with eager anticipation and learning occurs. Not only is it fun, but R.E.A.D. programs also provide support to children by offering the reading practice necessary to build vocabulary, increase the understanding of the material, and to gain fluency as a reader."

Also as part of Family Literacy Night, the students attending participated in other activities. They learned how to test to see if a book is too easy or too hard for their reading level. They worked on prepositions and their meanings.

They also created small A-Z Literacy Activity Cards - something that will be handy to carry along in the car, to a restaurant or to pull out at home when they are looking for something to do.

The children were asked to bring along a favorite stuffed animal so that they could do some of the activities with them.

One favorite activity was making an animal stack (fit for a human!). The snack included food for all different types of animals including sunflower kernels for birds, Scooby Snacks for dogs, Goldfish crackers for cats and treats for other animals! The students took home their animal snacks for later consumption.

The students' names went into a drawing and three lucky students were chosen to read with Lexi. Other students won Barnes and Noble gift certificates and books. Each student also got to choose a book to keep and take home with them.

"This evening is a vehicle to communicate with parents about the importance of literacy and to create good feelings between books and kids," said Missy Bratland, Spring Grove School Reading Specialist.

R.E.A.D. & Touching Moments

The R.E.A.D. program has been a part of the Summer Reading programs at the Houston and La Crescent libraries. Ellingson said that she would like to expand that to include the Spring Grove Public Library.

During winter break this year, they will be offering the R.E.A.D. program as well.

"We want to help keep the kids on track with their reading during their break," commented Ellingson.

R.E.A.D. is just one of the components of Touching Moments. Another program they coordinate is the Animal Assisted Activities that visit nursing homes and assisted living homes in the area.

A newer program is Therapeutic Riding (Equine Assisted Activities) - a program to enhance the emotional, physical and psychological development of a person through the use of a horse.

Touching Moments is a non-profit organization that is supported by the La Crescent Area Healthy Community Partnership (HCP). HCP's focus is creating healthier communities.

The handlers that participate in the programs are volunteers. More volunteers are always needed as there are many places that would like Touching Moments to visit even more.

For a pet to be a Touching Moments participant, the animals need to have mild temperaments, not be aggressive toward people or other animals, clean and well-groomed, vaccinated and well- mannered.

Dogs are required to go through an eight-week certification process to receive their Canine Good Citizenship Certification.

For more information about Touching Moments, visit its website www.touchmoments.org or email Ellingson at sellingson@norcorp.com.