Cats and Kids Connect Through Reading
Story time comes to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. Schoolchildren in the Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. metropolitan will have an opportunity to improve their literacy by reading books to cats through the Paws and Read program, which launches March 2, 2015—to coincide with Dr. Seuss’ birthday and to celebrate his world renowned book, The Cat in the Hat. The program is an AWLA educational initiative designed to help children improve and enhance their reading skills, while at that same time providing shelter cats with socialization and TLC.
As opposed to us humans, the shelter cats are nonjudgmental, and animals can be a source of comfort and support for children as they learn. According to a study conducted by Tufts University Paw for People Visitation Team, “Kids who did this improved their reading skills compared with those who read to human volunteers.”
“Children that have difficulty reading are often self-conscious when reading in front of other classmates,” said Jennifer Pickar, director of community programs, AWLA. “Having a playful, purring companion around can make reading more fun and help to build the child’s self-esteem.”
The Paws and Read program is mutually beneficial for the shelter cats as well. Annually, AWLA receives approximately 900 cats with an average length of stay of 35 days. With no time limit for any of its animals, some cats may live at the shelter for as long as a year prior to finding permanent homes.
“Cats are inherently social creatures and enjoy human interaction,” said Kevin Simpson, director of behavior and adoptions, AWLA. “The rhythmic sound of a child’s voice can be soothing and provide our shelter cats with an outlet for human socialization while they await adoption.”
There are plans for the Paws and Read program to expand to include other shelter animals, such as dogs and small companion animals. But, for now children, kindergarten-5th grade are invited to participate in 20 minute reading sessions with shelter cats on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 1p.m.-5:20p.m. A parent is required to accompany their child to a reading session. Children are able to choose a book from AWLA’s selection of stories or bring one of their own. Dr. Seuss books are being featured in March in honor of the late author’s birthday. Cats participating in the program are identified with a “Purrrfect Reader” sign on their kennel, so children can easily select the cat that they would like to read to.
“It is satisfying to see the children engaged with the shelter cats in a relaxed and fun environment, where they don’t have to worry about someone telling them the pronounced a word wrong or skipped part of the story,” said Pickar.
To register for the Paws and Read program, visit www.awla.org or call (703) 931-9241 ext. 213.