Maryville first-graders enjoy reading to man’s best friend


First-grader Rowan Klien shows his “paw pal” the pictures in the book, “Fly Guy’s Big Family,” by Tedd Arnold. The new reading program was developed by a a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student teacher. (Photo courtesy of SIUE)

For a first-grader, learning how to read can be intimidating. However, a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student teacher devised a way to make budding readers more relaxed and self-assured.

First-graders from Brittany Evans’ class read to “paw pals,” who sat quietly and offered no comments or corrections–only nonverbal support on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at Maryville Elementary School in Maryville.

“This builds up their confidence. They are reading and enjoying it,” said Iris Hulslander, a senior majoring in elementary education and a student teacher in Evans’ class. “They are reading with fluency and getting excited about it.”

Hulslander coordinated the visit from Got Your Six Support Dogs in Maryville.

Rowan Klien“Beth Wiemers and I teach the CIED 314 Learning Environments class on campus,” said Sarah Marsh, instructor in the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior’s Department of Teaching and Learning. “As a response to student feedback and stress levels earlier in the semester, Beth and I arranged for therapy dogs to visit SIUE.

“One idea that was discussed was using the therapy dogs to engage students in practicing their beginning reading skills, which is intended to be a fun, unintimidating and engaging way for students to practice. Iris took that idea and ran with it. Today is a result of that effort.”

“Sarah Marsh brought the therapy dogs into our class in the middle of an extremely stressful time with studies, and we all just relaxed,” said Hulslander. “It was great.”

“This is my first experience with therapy dogs, and I think it is an excellent idea,” said Evans, who earned a bachelor’s in elementary education and a master’s in literacy education from SIUE in 2008 and 2013, respectively. “The kids have been excited for weeks. They chose their books and have been practicing reading them.”

Many of the students read from books by the beloved New York Times best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems, including “Elephant and Piggie,” and from the “Pete the Cat” series by prolific children’s author and illustrator James Dean.

“It was fun,” said first-grader Hunter McCartney about reading “Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach” to his “paw pal” and adding that he was not nervous.

As to whether or not the dog enjoyed his reading, Henry replied, “Sort of.”

“Our partnerships in area schools are important to the growth of our future educators, and this was a great example of that student teacher/mentor teacher collaboration,” said Marsh.