Life begins at Halcyon

Home owners help Story Dogs spin magical tales

16 September 2019 | by Halcyon

Dogs don’t judge, which is why the Story Dogs program works its magic on kids struggling to read.
With the mission of making reading fun for children, at least three Halcyon home owners and their dogs volunteer in the ground-breaking program in local schools.

Story Dogs involves young primary school kids sitting down and reading to a dog and its handler for about 20 minutes once a week. Making the dog part of the equation creates a non-judgemental, relaxed and fun setting in which the kids build up their confidence and hopefully become lifelong learners.

On the Sunshine Coast, Halcyon Landing’s Marilyn Skeet and Lucille Alexander are involved in Story Dogs at nearby Bli Bli State School. Marilyn was already helping at the school when she decided to take part in Story Dogs with her miniature Poodle-cross Milly.

“I’d been volunteering helping kids with their reading for a couple of years,” she said. “I’ve got a lovely little dog, and it seemed sensible to put the two together. “There is a slightly different emphasis because we’re not really trying to improve their reading, we’re more focussed on trying to make it fun for the kids.”

And it appears that Milly is already working her magic. “On the first day, the kids all looked very nervous and didn’t know quite how to handle the dog,” Marilyn said.

“But now they come in with a big smile on their face in anticipation and say, ‘hello Milly’.
“One little boy, who was a little bit scared at first, now rests his hand on Milly while he’s reading.”
And Milly seems to enjoy it too.

“She sits between me and the child and usually puts her head on their lap, which I think is rather sweet,” Marilyn said. “She just stays there quietly while they read with the book slapping over the top of her, but she doesn’t mind.”

Lucille and her Maltese-cross Tinker joined Marilyn and Milly at the school in July. She said Tinker, a seven-year-old rescue dog, had the ideal temperament for the program. “He’s adorable; he’s gentle, very sociable and loves kids, so I think he’s eminently suited to the role,” Lucille said.

Like all Story Dogs, Tinker has passed a vet check and a behavioural assessment as well as being registered and vaccinated. Their handlers must have a Blue Card and they attend information and training sessions before starting their Story Dogs duties.

Halcyon Waters home owner Lynne Williams and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Alice have been in the program for almost a year; spending every Thursday of the school term at Musgrave Hill State School. Lynne has seen how Story Dogs can turn things around for kids.

She said one energetic boy had initially told her ‘I don’t do reading’ and then flicked quickly through the books. However, Lynne’s perseverance and Alice’s calming and comforting presence brought some encouraging signs by the end of Term 2.

“My very active boy read a book from cover to cover, and it was just so awesome,” Lynne said.
“We’ve slowed him down from a kid that just turned the pages to one who will sit and read a book.
“That’s got to make a difference to his life and it’s nice to know that you’ve made a bit of difference.

“Story Dogs is more than a reading program: it’s creating confidence.”

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