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“Horsing around” helps reluctant readers find success
Timmy reading.jpgGrace reading.jpgMax reading.jpg

For more than a week, Greenwood Elementary kindergartener Timmy Grober and first-graders Grace Pisciotta and Max Ziereis had been reading a favorite story aloud. They each read their story over and over, working to master hard words and long paragraphs. They didn’t realize it, but they were working on reading fluency, which is the ability to read text accurately, quickly and with expression. Reading fluency is critical to reading comprehension. But none of that really mattered to the students; they simply wanted to do well when a special guest arrived for a special story time.

That special guest arrived at Greenwood’s Outdoor Learning Space on May 5th, wearing his best bridle and halter. You see, the special guest was Duke, a 12-year-old miniature horse who is a trained therapy animal. Standing about three feet tall and weighing about 300 pounds, Duke is beloved by the youngsters who work with him.

“Hello, Dukey!” Ziereis said, as he stroked Duke’s neck.

Pamela, Grace and Duke.jpgDuke’s owner and trainer, Pamela Lindal-Hansum, is a learning specialist and special education teacher at Greenwood. She’s also a certified animal-assisted therapist, who knows what a huge difference a therapy animal can make to a child who is struggling with reading.

“A lot of my students have anxiety about reading because it’s hard for them,” Lindal-Hansum says. “But reading to an animal just doesn’t produce the same anxiety. It’s non-judgmental.”

499 Max reading to Duke 2.jpgClearly that was the case, as each of the students read their story to Duke, breezing through with very few stumbles or requests for assistance.

“The best part is it makes me happy a little bit when I read to Duke,” Pisciotta said.

“He’s nice,” Grober added. “He feels like a hairball.”

Parents have to give permission and sign a waiver for their children to participate in the animal therapy program, which happens about once a month, weather permitting.

“I talk to the kids about the fact that there is some danger involved,” Lindal-Hansum said. “They could get stepped on, so we have a safety talk.”

Grace and Duke.jpgBut Lindal-Hansum says there is an increasing body of evidence supporting the value of animal-assisted reading therapy in improving students’ reading fluency. In short, Duke helps kids work on hard things while having a lot of fun in the process.

"Horses can teach us a lot about ourselves and they bring out the best in everyone,” Lindal-Hansum said. “They just bring smiles and happiness.”

Posted 5/16/2017 2:01 PM
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