Bark and Read © Heidi Hudson

Anna Wilson, author of books including The Smug Pug and Pup Idol

Reading aloud and storytelling have always been very important to me. As an author, I go into schools and see how reading stories aloud can help build confidence and improve literacy skills. Reading to dogs is a fantastic, innovative idea - it will help boost the confidence of children who are nervous of reading aloud in front of a class, for example, and will encourage a lifelong love of books and reading, I'm sure. I frequently read to my own dog when I am trying out new passages of writing, so I can highly recommend it!

Andrea Whitwham, Pets As Therapy (P.A.T) volunteer at Goldington Green Lower School Nurture Group, Bedford, Bedfordshire

I found the whole experience absolutely amazing. These little ones who all had complex needs, one way or another, really blossomed over the seven weeks of our visits. All of them had emotional needs and came from difficult family backgrounds, and the nurture group was a way of helping them to come to terms with feelings and emotions as well as help them with their work. One little boy did not engage with us at all at the beginning but for him I think this programme has had the most impact. He was transformed from a shy, reserved little boy into a smiling happy child, eager to read and listen and work hard. He was the only one who brought his book every week. He would even read aloud, even if he was not supposed to! The teacher at the start of the programme said she thought it was a bonkers idea but she is now completely converted!

Diana Vickery, children's author and creator of the 'The Magical Journeys of Swankypants'

I recently had the pleasure of spending a day in Nottingham at a library, working with three groups of children aged six and seven, with READ's Tony and his wonderful dog, Danny. It was my book that he shared with the children that day and it was wonderful to see how they responded to reading with Danny, and they were all eager to try.

To encourage children to read by using a dog is an innovative method and Tony is an incredible man devoting his life trying to help our children to be proficient at reading again.

Mrs Lockwood and Mrs Fitsimmons, teachers at the Seashells Nurture Group at St James' Primary School, St Helens, Merseyside

When the nurture group first opened, a neighbouring teacher recommended a dog called Chief to visit the school to spend time with one particular child who had communication difficulties. As soon as Chief began to visit our nurture group, the staff quickly realised the value of his time spent not only with the child with communications difficulties, but also the benefits he brought to the other children in the group.

Since the time, Chief has become a firm favourite with children of all ages in the Seashells Nurture Group. Chief has helped the children to develop confidence in speaking socially, as whilst he is here the children are encouraged to chat with Chris (the P.A.T. volunteer) whilst cuddling and stroking Chief. Chief has a very calming influence on some of the children who find compliance in mainstream school very difficult. They have benefitted enormously from Chief's visits and are learning to control their tone of voice, sit calmly and show respect, whilst at the same time being able to express their emotions in a safe and caring environment.

Chief sometimes experiences children who, because of emotional difficulties, have verbal outbursts and display feelings of anger and frustration in a physical way. During these times, Chief remains quiet and undisturbed and with his calming influence these children are able to regain their composure more easily than if he had not been there. Children ask all the time when Chief and Chris are next visiting and this has become a regular slot on our Seashells timetable!

Viviane Schwarz, author of Timothy and The Strong Pyjamas commented on her own experience

I know from my own experience how hard it can be to read to other people, and I am grateful to the kind animals who happily listened to me with rapt attention while I practised and learned at home. When I was in school, I could not read without a stammer, and it was a frightening ordeal that got worse every time. I hope Bark and Read will help many children to have a better learning experience, especially those who don't have a pet of their own to help them out.

Andrew Cope, author of Spy Dog

I'm a great believer in reading aloud and, as the author ofSpy Dog, I always run ideas past my trusty mutt, Lara. The Bark and Read Foundation is a great way of facilitating school and library visits with dogs, and anything that encourages children to want to read, particularly aloud, is extremely positive.

Gill Bromley, Strategic Manager of Libraries and Archives at Kent County Council

I was working to develop a Kent Approach to Literacy and Reading when I first heard about a Reading Dogs scheme from a friend in the USA.  I was inspired by the idea and made enquiries in the UK to find out whether we had anything similar.  I soon got to know Tony Nevett and his dog, Scotts who came to Kent to do a demonstration.  It was such a success that we now have a small team of willing volunteers working in an increasing number of schools.  There is growing evidence that this approach really helps to engage reluctant readers and raise standards of literacy. Long may it continue!

Debbie Jones, teaching assistant at Westfields Junior School, Yately, Hampshire

All 20 reluctant readers who took part in the pilot scheme felt more confident about reading afterwards.

"Remarkably 60% of the children improved their reading age by 3 months or more in just 6 weeks, and all the pupils' reading age advanced by at least 2 months."

Vicky Burn, P.A.T. volunteer at Elliston Nursery, Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire

The children are aged from three to five and LOVE Bonnie. She is bringing on their vocabulary really well and a couple of children who have speech defects are forgetting their problems when they talk to Bonnie. She is also used as an incentive for them - as the children that have been very well behaved and polite will be able to sort out her water bowl and mat - and they all want that big job! Absolutely nothing worries Bonnie and one little boy accidentally trod quite hard on her two front paws and there was no reaction at all apart from a wince!

Comments from the children at Elliston Nursery

Georgie - "When I am reading, Bonnie looks at the pictures and she likes me."

Holly - "Bonnie makes me feel really happy when I read to her. Bonnie kisses me."

Kane - "I love Bonnie. Bonnie loves me to read to her."

Corben - "I read to her and she likes it and she licks my hand and lets me brush her."

Charlie - "When I am reading to her, she really listens."

Jake - "I love Bonnie a million times. She is adorable."

Jennifer Reddecliff, P.A.T volunteer at Niton School, Niton, Isle of Wight

We have been going for four weeks now and Holly is really beginning to form a relationship with each child. The children seem to be growing in confidence and look forward to their time with Holly. Some have behaviour difficulties and Holly acts as a calming influence as she has such a gentle nature.

Sally Marsh, P.A.T volunteer at Bunbury School, Tarporley, Cheshire

It is the highlight of the children's week and one little boy who does not really talk went back after reading to Bob, stood up and told the class what he had done, with the biggest smile on his face.

Ian Burley, Library Development Officer based at Tamworth Library in Staffordshire

Last year a friend of mine came in to the library and asked me if I had seen the article on BBC Breakfast News about Kent Libraries using reading dogs to engage reluctant readers. I thought this sounded like an interesting idea and asked my manager if I could pursue it, to which she agreed. After a bit of digging on the Internet I found Tony Nevett and his dog Danny, and contacted Tony to see if there was any way he would do a pilot session for us at Glascote Library near Tamworth. Tony happily agreed and the session took place at Glascote Library in February 2010, working with two local schools. In addition to Tony and Danny, Kelly Bakewell also came along, with her dog, Batman. Both schools were delighted with the pilot session and I have since found funding to enable us to run two projects, each of six weeks duration, again with Tony, working with four schools in the Tamworth area. We are thrilled to have the opportunity of using such an innovative scheme to engage any youngsters who feel that they would benefit from extra support and encouragement with their reading.'

Rob Lamerton, Library Assistant at Lending Library - North Devon Library & Record Office

The dogs and handlers of Dogs Helping Kids (DHK) have been a regular part of our lives at Barnstaple library for about a year now, and the difference they make to the children that they work with is plain for all to see, and more than a little astonishing. We've seen children who would come into the library to use the computers, do a bit of colouring or play with the soft toys, but who would go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid actually cracking the spine of a book, usually with a comment along the lines of "it's too hard," "I can't do it" or "I'll get it wrong." To see the change in these same children after they have had a few sessions with a dog from DHK, to see them become confident and enthusiastic readers, is remarkable. The sessions really do help them to lose their fear of making a mistake, which in turn allows them to approach reading as something that can be enjoyed, rather than a stressful test of ability with a definite pass/fail condition attached to each and every word. Good work all, keep it up!

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