Pet Pals Motivate Struggling Readers and Help Kids with Special Needs

Rosie is full of love and eager to listen to struggling readers.

Rosie is full of love and eager to listen to struggling readers.

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

Pet Pals, real ones or stuffed animals, offer young children a sense of security.

Use Pet Pals to catch and keep kids’ attention and help struggling readers and children with special needs. Try the following four-legged-based tricks…

Pair Student Readers with Furry Listeners – If it’s possible at your school, plan a day when your kids can read to a real dog in class or in the media center.

The logistics for this  may be tricky, but if you can partner with an organization like “Sea Spot Read,” a volunteer group in Wake County, North Carolina, US, you can make this happen and help boost student reading skills.

Tails will wag, and the smiles on your students’ faces will stretch for miles!

“See Spot Read” takes certified pet therapy dogs to libraries and local schools for children to meet and read to.

Furry friends make lovable listeners because they don’t judge a child while he or she is reading. They snuggle up next to the children and sit patiently even as the young readers struggle with word pronunciation and story comprehension.

Volunteers who bring the dogs in the program sit nearby, ready to help children read, but only when needed.

In some communities, students as old as eleven and twelve who are reading below grade level delight in sharing stories with a four-legged audience.

Pet Pals are flexible and easy-to-use teaching and attentionology tools.

If you work with children in Pre-K, Kindergarten or with struggling readers in First Grade, try this…

Motivate Pre-Readers with Stuffed Animals – Toy Pet PalsInvite young children to choose a stuffed animal and make up a story about it out loud.

Petey, the pug-nosed Poetry Pup, asks children to read poems on bones.

Petey, the pug-nosed Poetry Pup, asks children to read short, easy poems on bones.

Ask the class to join you in applauding the “story presenter” when she/he has finished telling a story. This builds children’s language arts skills and confidence.

Block Out Time for Book Cover Storytelling – Invite kids to fold construction paper in half to make a book cover.

Ask students to choose a story theme and color the cover with an illustration about the theme.

Group the kids with a Pet Pal and begin storytelling time. Very young children believe that their Pet Pals are really listening!

Turn Class Pets into a Teacher’s Helper – Some schools allow teachers to have live class pets on a permanent basis. I’ve taught poetry writing and narrative writing in classrooms with cages of all kinds of critters – turtles, lizards, hermit crabs, rabbits, parakeets, ants and ferrets.

Class pets can help you catch and keep kids’ attention during lesson time in any subject.

As you’re reviewing math problems, for example, you can glance over towards “Hopper,” the class rabbit, and casually mention that “he’s COUNTING on the class getting their math problems correct.

Put word play to work with class pets that connects with your lesson. For example, you could ask the class, “How many carrots would Hopper like to eat?” Let’s count to a large number for Hopper.” 

"Class, please be quiet while I read to you and Furball. Furball has trouble hearing."

“Class, please be quiet while I read to you and Furball. Furball has trouble hearing.”

Read a Story with a Pet Pal in your Hand or Lap – It’s hard to imagine anything more attention-getting with young children than adorable animals.

When you announce to the class that it’s time to join you for reading time, stand or sit down in front of the group with a Pet Pal in your hand or lap.

Delight your students and strengthen their focus on you and your reading by first talking briefly to the animal as if it were real.

You might say, for example, “Furball, are you ready for another story?” Move the stuffed animal’s head to make it nod. “Class,” you continue, “let’s be very quiet while I read this story, because Furball has trouble hearing.”

This approach is another example of how Pet Pals can help children who struggle with reading skills or have other special needs.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in any instructional setting!

Please subscribe to Attentionology and send comments about how you use animals in teaching young children.

Stop by on Wednesday for Mid-Week Focus.

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara ♥ The Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Young students are getting noisy while you’re trying to teach.

Solution: Hold up "Listen Star," a toy magic wand that you’ve designated to be a cue for quiet. Tell the class, "When you see our friend, 'Listen Star' dance across the classroom sky, that’s your signal to HUSH for a moment."

Related Posts: Let "Listen Star" Work Magic for You