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A reader's best friend


Students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School are learning how reading can be fun and enjoyable – especially when you are telling a story to a much-loved furry friend!

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The Brompton school recently introduced the Story Dogs program into its curriculum, to assist some students to improve their reading skills and confidence.

Twice a week school parent Rachel Gunston and her golden retriever Zalee conduct one-on-one reading sessions with students.

Each session runs for 20 minutes, with the student getting to spend time with Zalee before selecting a book to read to her.

“Even within a short time, the children go from sometimes being really nervous to being relaxed and calm with Zalee…she really reads the kids and picks up on how they are feeling,” said Rachel, who has a background in human resources.

“The students love being able to pat and read to Zalee – and she loves it too and is exhausted by the end of the day!”

Principal Annette Diassinas, Felix and Layla with Zalee.

IHM acting principal Annette Diassinas said the Story Dogs program was ideal for children who need to build their confidence reading in public and would benefit from having additional reading fluency.

“We know children love animals and this is a great way to incorporate literacy in a non-threatening way,” she said.

“Dogs don’t know if you get a word wrong, so the children feel comfortable with reading. Zalee loves to listen, and she just wants them to have a fun time so that reading become a joyful experience.

“With Zalee by their side, you see these students getting excited about reading and they are reading text they have never seen before – and they want to do it.

“Zalee has such a calming influence, and we all think she is just amazing.”

The Story Dogs program was established in NSW by two parents with primary school aged students in 2009. It now has 400 volunteer ‘dog teams’ working with students around Australia, including at 19 schools in South Australia. Besides IHM, another Catholic school currently participating in the program is St Mary MacKillop School at Wallaroo.

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