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Teacher is encouraging 6-year-olds to read more by using puppy therapy: 'They lift spirits'

She decided to integrate puppy therapy into her classroom and noticed that the productivity and happiness of her students went up.

Teacher is encouraging 6-year-olds to read more by using puppy therapy: 'They lift spirits'
Cover Image Source: Instagram | @fostertalespt

Reading is a great way to introduce a world of creativity and imagination to kids and that's why everyone encourages parents to start reading to their kids from a young age. However, it is only after five years the children begin to read properly. But this teacher from Delaware has found an innovative way to help her students develop their reading skills: by bringing foster puppies to the classroom. Brooke Hughes said that she was inspired to start the reading program after she began fostering puppies during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, per Good Morning America.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | KATRIN BOLOVTSOVA
Representative Image Source: Pexels | KATRIN BOLOVTSOVA

Hughes has been teaching first-grade students for the last 12 years at Hanby Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. "I just couldn't stop thinking of all the amazing benefits that the puppies could bring to the actual classroom," Hughes said. "It could bring so much mental health support and reading support, not only for the students but for the staff too." Once the children began to return to school full-time, the teacher wrote a proposal to bring dogs into the classroom.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foster Tales Puppy Therapy (@fostertalespt)


 

The program is called Foster Tales Puppy Therapy, officially started in January last year after a one-day trial that proved to be successful. Hughes shared, "[Hanby Principal Juliet Agresti] let me bring in three puppies for one day to see how it went and it was amazing. It brought so much joy to the school. The puppies just lifted everyone's spirits and ever since then, we haven't had many days without puppies in our school." Since then, Hanby Elementary has welcomed over 50 puppies between the ages of 6 to 12 weeks from Rags 2 Riches Animal Rescue in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, into many of the school's classrooms.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foster Tales Puppy Therapy (@fostertalespt)


 

She said, "People think that my classroom must be a zoo and straight chaos. The puppies are very calming. Hughes added that the puppies "usually sleep most of the day. Our productivity is up because the kids have to get all their work done to have puppy time." That's not all. Students and their parents also sign up for puppies on weeknights and during the weekends and the animal rescue center manages the financial costs and all the care and necessities a puppy needs during their time with Hanby Elementary families. Moreover, Hughes said that foster puppies also get adopted within a few weeks.

Hughes spoke about the benefits she has noticed in her 6-year-old students whom she teaches. "We're collecting data on the reading scores from fall to spring, compared to other years when we didn't have puppies. And just from fall to winter, we've noticed almost a 32% increase," Hughes said. "My class makeup was very similar and so we're just so excited to see the final results from fall to spring. It's mostly just extra practice because they're eager -- they want to read and they want to practice and that is going to always increase scores."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foster Tales Puppy Therapy (@fostertalespt)


 

According to a 2023 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that states the average reading scores for 13-year-olds for the academic year 2022-2023 decreased by 4 points when compared to the year 2019-2020. Hughes has seen this downward trend in her classroom, but her experimental foster puppy program has helped the kids to just pick up a book and start reading it. "The puppies don't care if you get stuck on a word. The puppies don't care if you try to read one word for five minutes. They're just happy to sit in your lap. So, so much confidence has come from this program as well," the first-grade teacher said.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foster Tales Puppy Therapy (@fostertalespt)


 

The students have also learned other skills like empathy, compassion, responsibility and communication, according to Hughes. "I call it a win-win-win-win, the staff benefits because we like coming to school with puppies, the students benefit from learning so many life skills, the puppies benefit because they're getting out of the shelter and loved on completely, and then the rescue benefits because we're freeing up another spot at the rescue for another animal to be saved. So four-way win, can't beat it," Hughes said.

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