Barbara Vokatis

by Barbara

Innovative Collaborations between Teachers and Therapy Dog Teams to Increase Children’s Writing Skills and Inspire Them for Life

July 14, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

Introduction

Is it possible to incorporate dog therapy in such a way that it will result in children’s increased motivation, engagement, and achievement in the area of literacy and especially writing, as well as empower children for life? In this article, I highlight positive results from an innovative experiment in which a collaborative team consisting of a second grade teacher and therapy dog owner designed such activities and saw substantial results for the entire class of second grade students. 

What Are Therapy Dogs?

According to the definition by American Kennel Club, “Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes” (American Kennel Club, n.d.). The organization further describes: “From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people” (American Kennel Club, n.d.).

Child finding comfort by hugging Carmel

Why Dog Therapy in Educational Settings and Beyond

The benefits of incorporating therapy dogs are well known in those settings that involve this type of therapy, such as schools, nursing homes, medical facilities (Braun, Stangler, Narveson, & Pettingell, 2009; Gawlinski & Steers, 2005), and beyond. These benefits span across social benefits, cognitive benefits (Jalongo, Astorino, & Bomboy, 2004), as well as emotional and mental ones (Barker & Dawson, 1098; Coakley & Mahoney, 2009). Benefits for children in educational settings alone are impressive and show that therapy dog teams have a potential to influence children’s socio-emotional and cognitive spheres (Beetz, 2015). Therapy dogs’ positive influence on children’s reading skills are especially well observed and documented (Bassette & Taber-Doughty, 2013; Booten, 2011; Briggs, 2003; Burns & DiLonardo, 2014; Dunlap, 2010; Fisher & Cozens, 2014; Garnto, 2014; Le Roux, Swartz, & Swart, 2014), including positive impact on reading for children with disabilities (Griess, 2010; Treat, 2013). I also discuss some of those benefits in my previous book, “The amazing power of dog therapy: How my therapy dog transformed children’s learning” (Vokatis, 2021).

Pushing the Boundaries Further 

Even though benefits of dog therapy in educational settings are well known, very little is known how such dog therapy teams might impact students’ writing achievement and influence children’s thinking about their life goals. Very little is also known about experimenting in the area of dog therapy beyond activities such as children reading to therapy dogs, in order to see to what extent creative and experimental ways of incorporating dog therapy might impact children, including those children who experience difficulties with literacy, motivation, and engagement, especially in the area of writing. The book I am writing in collaboration with Lucinda Ormiston, the second grade teacher whose classroom I have been visiting, “Teachers and therapy dog teams: Collaborations to increase children’s literacy achievement, engagement, and motivation and to empower them for life,” written after experimenting with dog therapy in her classroom, offers such new directions and creative activities. 

Second graders with their autobiographies, Carmel, and Barb

 Two Crucial Aspects of the Innovative Dog Therapy

Two important factors are necessary in order to put the approach described in our book into practice: 1. a close and meaningful collaboration between a teacher and therapy dog team and 2. therapy dog owner’s own simple book about how the dog and owner became a dog therapy team. First, it is very important that both the teacher and therapy dog owner are both devoted to the idea of working together during dog therapy sessions and in weekly meetings in order to reflect on how the activity is going, if there are results, and what needs to be changed, as well as what the next steps are. Second, it is important that the therapy dog owner writes and self-publishes a simple book prior to starting activities with children. Such a book can be simply a memoir that details the journey from puppyhood to becoming a therapy dog, similar to my own book I wrote: “From unruly to therapy dog: The amazing journey” (Vokatis, 2021). Self-publishing a book is an important aspect because it will help children see the therapy dog owner as a book author, someone who writes and for whom writing is important in life. Our current book that will be soon published, “Teachers and therapy dog teams: Collaborations to increase children’s literacy achievement, engagement, and motivation and to empower them for life,” offers very simple ideas about how to conduct such activities and also how to self-publish a book. It is not required for the therapy dog owner to have background in education as many activities are relatively simple to implement with the teacher collaborator’s input and help.  

Second graders with their autobiographies and their teacher, Lucinda

 The Innovative Therapy Dog Laboratory Idea that Resulted in Writing the Book  

The activities described in the book “Teachers and therapy dog teams: Collaborations to increase children’s literacy achievement, engagement, and motivation and to empower them for life,” are a result of collaboration work I engaged in as a teacher educator volunteering with my certified therapy dog with a classroom teacher, Lucinda Ormiston. We started this collaboration in 2019, in Lucinda’s third grade. Then, during the COVID-19, we continued it virtually in her second grade. However, the 2021/22 school year was special. That year, our therapy dog visits started in the way the visits in previous years and in other classrooms occurred. Simply, when Carmel and I came in, I walked with her around the classroom allowing children to pet my dog and interact with her. Such interactions always provided a sense of calmness, relaxation, and joy for all children. But as Carmel was becoming an integral part of Lucinda’s classroom community, both Lucinda and I started thinking about ways to incorporate these visits into Lucinda’s curriculum in more focused ways and involving me as well, not just Carmel. That is how the idea of an experimentation lab was born. We started by simply asking children to write about what Carmel’s visits did for them. We also noticed that writing about anything in connection to Carmel gave children more joy in putting words on the paper. Therefore, we started thinking about other ways of incorporating Carmel’s visits into children’s writing. During that time, it also became obvious to me that I was not just a certified therapy dog owner. I became also a participant because my task was no longer to only handle my dog during the therapy but also to work with the teacher and students as we incorporated concrete educational activities. 

Results

Using the book, I wrote about my journey to becoming a certified therapy team to teach children about visualization was an incredible moment in our therapy dog lab we did every week for about 30-40 minutes. This idea was very successful because teaching children about visualization by using my own book about Carmel, the therapy dog they loved and were attached to, connected very well with children and made visualization more embedded in what the children already knew and were attached to. Did we think these ideas would work with children? No, we did not. But we saw that children were interested in anything initiated by me because of their already developed attachment to Carmel and me (Beck & Madresh, 2008). At one point, when we decided to do just a regular therapy session with Carmel (only petting, no literacy activities), children actually said, “We want to do visualization!” This was such a crucial moment because the fact that children demanded this literacy activity when Carmel and I were in the classroom meant that our creative ideas worked very well. 

When we asked children if they would like to write their own autobiographies, they all responded with great enthusiasm. After that, each subsequent lesson, such as about creating a book cover, introduction, and writing the first chapter and other chapters were all met with continuous enthusiasm from the children. In fact, as Lucinda said to me, all children wanted to do is write, work on their bibliographies, and nothing else mattered more to them than this writing. I personally witnessed this enthusiasm throughout my time spent in the classroom. As I was leaving the classroom, the children always asked me to stay longer with Carmel. This result is especially astonishing because the work on autobiographies was quite involved, consisting of many steps and also redoing the work for a final copy. In addition, we also saw how children who would not even write a word became enthusiastic writers who wrote a book and had plans for writing more. Moreover, as their work was finished, some children pledged that they would continue writing books during the summer. Some children also decided they would become book writers and therapy dog handlers in the future. Children’s responses to interview questions for my present research study were also striking. All children said that creating their own autobiographies and petting Carmel were the best parts of our therapy visits. One of the students expressed his big life goal, “When I get older, I’m going to write a couple thousand books!”

Study

Currently, I am analyzing data gathered during this exploratory pilot study using the hermeneutic phenomenology approach. The preliminary themes based on interviews with teachers, classroom observations, and children’s writing are uncovering the lived experience of the participants in the study: a sense of unique belonging in the friendship community, a sense of learning about what interacting with a dog in the classroom entails, a sense of unique attachment, and a sense of building more engaged learning. 

Vision for the Future

In my vision for the future, I see more attention to incorporating therapy dogs in educational settings, and particularly promoting collaborations between teachers and therapy dog teams by teacher educators in educational coursework around the world. I hope my application, Carmel Therapy Dog App will also facilitate these goals. I also would like to see professional development for teachers that involves such collaborations. Further exploration of experimental activities and research in this area would be desirable as well.

References:

American Kennel Club. (n.d.). What is a therapy dog?

https://www.akc.org/sports/title-recognition-program/therapy-dog-program/what-is-a-therapy-dog/

Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric Services, 49, 797–801. doi:10.1176/ps.49.6.797

Bassette, L. A., & Taber-Doughty, T. (2013). The effects of a dog reading visitation program on academic engagement behavior in three elementary students with emotional and behavioral disabilities: A single case design. Child & Youth Care Forum, 43, 239–256.doi:10.1007/s10566-013-9197-y

Beck, L., & Madresh, E. (2008). Romantic partners and four-legged friends: An extension of attachment theory to relationships with pets. Anthrozoös, 21, 43–56. doi:10.2752/089279308X274056

Beetz, A. M. (2015). How animals in schools can support learning. Retrieved from http://www.animalimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Keynote-Beetz.pdf

Booten, A. E. (2011). Effects of animal-assisted therapy on behavior and reading in theclassroom (Undergraduate thesis). Retrieved from http://mds.marshall.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1023&context=etd

Braun, C., Stangler, T., Narveson, J., & Pettingell, S. (2009). Animal-assisted therapy as a painrelief intervention for children. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 15, 105–109. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.02.008

Briggs, R. (2003). Paws for reading: An innovative program uses dogs to help kids read better.School Library Journal, 49(6), 43. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2003/06/literacy/paws-for-reading-an-innovative-program-uses-dogs-to-help-kids-read-better/

Burns, R., & DiLonardo, M. J. (2014). READing paws: For giving young readers confidence (and cuddles). Atlanta Magazine, 54(5), 110. Retrieved from http://www.atlantamagazine.com/2014/reading-paws/

Coakley, A. B., & Mahoney, E. K. (2009). Creating a therapeutic and healing environment with a pet therapy program. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 15, 141–146. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2009.05.004

Dunlap, V. M. (2010). Canine assisted therapy and remediating reading: A review of literature.(Master’s thesis). Retrieved from http://www.nmu.edu/sites/DrupalEducation/file/UserFiles/Files/Pre-Drupal/SiteSections/Students/GradPapers/EdSpecialist/Dunlap_Vicki_EP.pdf

Garnto, M. (2014, March). PAWS for reading: A free strategy that works. Paper presented at the Virginia State Reading Association, Roanoke, Virginia. Retrieved from http://marilyngarnto.weebly.com/uploads/2/7/8/6/27862403/therapy_dogs.pdf

Gawlinski, A., & Steers, N. (2005). Dogs ease anxiety, improve health status of hospitalized heart failure patients (American Heart Association Abstract 2513). Retrieved from https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/Documents/volunteering/PACArticle.pdf

Griess, J. O. (2010). A canine audience: The effect of animal-assisted therapy on reading progress among students identified with learning disabilities (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3425685)

Jalongo, M. R., Astorino, T., & Bomboy, N. (2004). Canine visitors: The influence of therapy dogs on young children’s learning and well-being in classrooms and hospitals. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32, 9–16. doi:10.1023/B:ECEJ.0000039638.60714.5f

Le Roux, M. C., Swartz, L., & Swart, E. (2014). The effect of an animal-assisted reading program on the reading rate, accuracy and comprehension of Grade 3 students: A randomized control study. Child & Youth Care Forum, 43, 655–673. doi:10.1007/s10566-014-9262-1

Treat, W. A. (2013). Animal-assisted literacy instruction for students with identified learning disabilities: Examining the effects of incorporating a therapy dog into guided oral reading sessions (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3599249)

Vokatis, B. (2021). From unruly to therapy dog: The amazing journey. Independently published.

Vokatis, B. (2021). The amazing power of dog therapy: How my therapy dog transformedchildren’s learning. Independently published.

by Barbara

illustrative media

We can change the world

June 27, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

Today was a special day. We visited the second grade dog therapy/literacy lab class of second graders for the last time in this school year. During this time we also interviewed some students, asking them about what they liked about our visits this year.

Children expressed that having a dog in the classroom gave them a sense of happiness and brought a lot of fun and laughter due to Carmel’s silly personality. They also all mentioned that working on their own autobiographies was the best part of my own interaction with them. It’s amazing to hear from children that writing with Carmel was the best part because it shows that the children truly value this experience and got a sense of a great accomplishment. 

Some students said:

“It’s very fun. We get to work on stuff that other second graders don’t get to do.”

“We get to write books and talk about books. We also get to illustrate in many different ways.”

“My favorite part was playing with her and getting to write books. When I get older I’m going to write a couple thousand books.”

“My favorite thing is that I always love reading books. I always wanted to write a real book about something, and you gave me the opportunity.”

Children’s responses to interview questions made me rethink the title of my next book. When children talk about writing and becoming writers, as well as even having their own therapy dogs in the future, these ideas make me think that what we have done in the classroom truly empowered children. In the world of chaos and sometimes hopelessness, I can see that bringing pets to schools and engaging children in meaningful activities around pets and writing about them can result in the actual change in the world because these children will influence the future. Therefore, the new title of my current book will be: 

“Teachers and therapy dog teams: Collaborations to increase children’s motivation, engagement, and literacy achievement and to empower them for life

In the meantime, as we cannot go to every classroom in this country, we have created the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. This application allows children to interact with my dog character, write stories, illustrate, and much more. The application also is meant to be used by teachers who would like to connect students to the therapy dog idea and look for ways of engaging young writers in writing. So please do not wait and get the app. 

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

What else can we do?

June 4, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

As the 21/22 school year is coming to the end, I have to reflect on what has happened this year in the second grade. What started as regular visits, involving petting Carmel and Carmel interacting with children, it turned into more thought-out and strategic integration of our therapy visits into the second grade curriculum, with themes such seems as kindness and visualization, and then progressing to children’s developing their own and quite elaborate autobiographies.

What is fascinating is the fact that every time I come in with Carmel, children cannot wait to continue working on these autobiographies and cannot wait to share with me what they have written. I can see incredible enthusiasm in their eyes every time they share.

Another amazing thing is the fact that every child in the second grade is an enthusiastic writer now and considers himself or herself an engaged writer. This was not the case before we started the activity. Some children in the classroom absolutely despised writing.

Another phenomenon the teacher and I have observed is the improvement of social interaction. In this highly engaging activity, children have been helping each other in writing. I watched a boy helping another boy thinking of a joke that the other boy wanted to include in his autobiography. I also saw another child helping another child in spelling. We have also seen two girls working very well together. Even though we didn’t know what exactly they were talking about, you could just see their gestures and face expressions as they were helping each other.

Something else occurred this week. As children were working on their authors’ bios, some of them started including goals for their lives in those little biographies. One child said that he is going to become a famous book author. Another child declared that he was going to have his own therapy dog and take the dog to places that need such interactions.

In addition, these activities have spread to another second grade classroom. Children in the classroom are already writing their own books and I am doing very similar activities I have done with the other second grade classroom.

When I reflect on these learning gains and beyond, I’m starting to ask questions about what else is possible when we connect therapy teams and teachers in more meaningful, fuller, thoughtful ways. I think that this type of activity can be used to enhance children’s learning in also other subjects. I will have to add some more thinking to these ideas, but I’m already open to explore the possibilities and challenges. How can we help children in learning math, science, social studies, when we team up teachers and therapy dog teams? I do not know all the answers yet but I’m looking forward to exploring these areas.

In the meantime, as we cannot go to every classroom in this country, we have created the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. This application allows children to interact with my dog character, write stories, illustrate, and much more. The application also is meant to be used by teachers who would like to connect students to the therapy dog idea and look for ways of engaging young writers in writing. So please do not wait and get the app. 

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

“We want to write!”

May 22, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

Is it possible to turn the whole classroom of second graders, including children who don’t like to write, into motivated, engaged, and enthusiastic graders? Yes, it is possible and realistic.

This week, I couldn’t come to the second grade on Wednesday, which is our regular time, and had to come on Thursday. On Wednesday, when children anticipated our visit, they kept asking the teacher when Carmel and I are coming because they wanted to keep writing. Isn’t it amazing the children mentioned writing on their own in connection to our visit?

When I came in on Thursday, as usually, I walked with Carmel around the classroom to give the children a chance to pet Carmel. Then, I started the activity by refreshing children’s memory on what they accomplished so far, such as their cover page, dedication, and introduction.

The next step was to start writing regular autobiography chapters. I started by reading the first chapter of my book, “From Unruly to Therapy Dog,” and discussed with children the importance of titling that first chapter. I then talked to children about their books, asking them about what their first chapter would be about and how they would like to title it. In the meantime, the teacher wrote the first chapter title and chapter example on the smartboard. I then asked a couple of children about their title ideas and chapter content ideas. One of the students, who decided to write his autobiography about the development of his love for Minecraft, titled his chapter “How it all started.” He then told me about how he found out about the game and how old he was. Another student decided to write about her love for planting flowers, while others kept their autobiographies as more general, about themselves and their families.

After this introduction to the activity, both the teacher and I walked around the classroom helping individual children come up with their chapter titles and content. The most amazing thing happened when we started hearing from children how many chapters they were writing. Some children were on their fifth chapter. They were also all extremely exited and engaged. The excitement was literally in the air.

If you would like to hear more about how to inspire children to write, please get the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. In this app, children will be able to interact with Carmel and write and illustrate stories. Just like the power of the connection between Carmel and children results in amazing writing motivation in the classroom, we will strive to provide a similar experience in the  app.

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

New Ideas to Enhance Teaching of Writing

May 5, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

We all know that motivation is an extremely important ingredient of learning anything. How can we motivate children to write? Because to me good teaching is never prescriptive but rather needs to be creative, inspirational, and in tune with students’ needs, teachers really need to experiment with new teaching ideas. As a teacher and researcher, I find that teaching expertise and experimenting with new and creative ideas are crucial in teaching. 

In my collaboration with the second grade teacher, we found that for children it’s very motivating when I read my first book I wrote, about how Carmel and I became a therapy team, “From unruly to therapy dog.” They already know me as Carmel’s handler and when I read my book to them, they are getting to know me also as an author. This experience is motivating to them because they see that it is not as difficult to become a published author. As I read the book, children have questions not only about Carmel but also about the self publishing process. I hear statements like: “I want to be an author.”

Last week, after the spring break, during our therapy visit, I refreshed children on autobiography and every child came up with his or her autobiography idea, as well as the title and the idea for an illustration. Children also created their first drafts of their autobiography book covers. In addition, they were extremely eager to share their drafts with other classmates.

This is one of the many ways I hope to inspire children in the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. Children can write stories with dog characters or even with Carmel as a character. Since Carmel and I can only be at one place at a time, we published the app as a way to allow children to interact with Carmel and get creative. The app can also be used as a tool by teachers who want to incorporate writing and creativity into their classroom – a way to inspire stories and creativity in children in a manner similar to the way Carmel inspires children in the classroom. If you are a parent or a teacher, or know a child you believe could benefit from the app in this way, feel free to check it out at the link below and come write with us!

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

This Journey Only Gets Better

April 17, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

What can improve education in this country and beyond? Expensive commercial literacy materials that claim to do the trick? Or maybe good teachers who are true experts and can make their own decisions based on responsive teaching? As a college professor and researcher, I can definitely tell the latter is the answer. But beyond that, there are some literacy resources that come from therapy dog teams and teachers collaborating together, an area that is not utilized yet because it is novel. When truly dedicated expert teachers team up with truly dedicated therapy dog teams, real miracles can really happened in the classroom and my mission is to begin to develop such practices.

Some time ago I described the situation when we were going to take a break from our literacy activities and do just do a regular dog therapy visit, but something incredible happened. Some children asked us if we could continue visualizations in the classroom.

Last week and this week we did something else. Because children learned about biographies, I used this opportunity to talk about biography, autobiography, and memoir, based on my book, From Unruly to Therapy Dog, that essentially is a memoir. The discussion I had with children led to some interesting ideas. For instance, we came to the conclusion that sometimes it’s not so easy to just distinguish between a memoir or biography. Children understood why my book is a memoir, but at the same time, they also thought it could be a biography about my dog.

This week, we explored ideas for children’s own autobiographies and this session was absolutely amazing. Children came up with their own illustration ideas for the book cover as well as the titles. Some autobiography ideas were mostly about children’s life with their families. Some other ideas were more than that because children wanted to write about how they learned a certain skill or acquired a certain hobby overtime. Some children even had ideas for several autobiographies. I could just sense the excitement in the air during that time.

When I debriefed with the teacher, I heard something amazing. One of the children, who is very shy, asked her if she could write her own autobiography. What a great breakthrough! These children are truly becoming motivated to become writers, to write their own biographies, just to keep up with Carmel and my own book publishing. Also, the teacher told me that one child even brought an example of autobiography that was done in the previous year. 

This is one of the many ways I hope to inspire children in the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. Children can write stories with dog characters or even with Carmel as a character. Since Carmel and I can only be at one place at a time, we published the app as a way to allow children to interact with Carmel and get creative. The app can also be used as a tool by teachers who want to incorporate writing and creativity into their classroom – a way to inspire stories and creativity in children in a manner similar to the way Carmel inspires children in the classroom. If you are a parent or a teacher, or know a child you believe could benefit from the app in this way, feel free to check it out at the link below and come write with us!

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

And then, this happened in the classroom…

April 5, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

In my last blog, I described how the second grade teacher and I extended the technique of visualizing with children. Children not only verbally visualized, but they also drew pictures of their visualizations and then wrote based on what they drew.

This week, however, we decided to take a break from the literacy activities with  Carmel and do just a regular visit, with petting Carmel only.

As I began walking around the classroom with excited Carmel and children began to engage with her, all of the sadden a boy said, “Why don’t we do the visualization with Carmel again?” Other children agreed eagerly. When we heard it, both the teacher and I looked at each other. We could not believe the children wanted to keep doing the visualization activity.

Based on this unexpected wish, we decided to continue the activity. The teacher took Carmel and started walking around the classroom while I began reading another part of my book, From Unruly to Therapy Dog. This time I asked the children to visualize the part in which Carmel went to her first obedience class and peed on the floor from excitement after not seeing her trainer for quite a long time.

When I finished reading, I asked the children to share their visualizations. During that sharing another unexpected thing happened. It turned out the children’s visualizations were influenced by other children’s visualizations. Simply, children repeated certain details that others expressed and added their own spin. In addition, the visualizations turned into little fantasy stories in which Carmel exhibited  human behavior and was able to use a credit card in the store where the training took place.

Another unexpected and incredible thing happened when a student approached me and asked me some details about how I published my books and how he could publish his own book in the future.

When I debriefed with the teacher, we were stunned by the results that occurred on that day. We also started planning the next activity.

This is one of the many ways I hope to inspire children in the Carmel’s  Therapy Dog App. Children can write stories with dog characters or even with Carmel as a character. Since Carmel and I can only be at one place at a time, we published the app as a way to allow children to interact with Carmel and get creative. The app can also be used as a tool by teachers who want to incorporate writing and creativity into their classroom – a way to inspire stories and creativity in children in a manner similar to the way Carmel inspires children in the classroom. If you are a parent or a teacher, or know a child you believe could benefit from the app in this way, feel free to check it out at the link below and come write with us!

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

Next Level Reading

April 1, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dog Takes Teaching a Reading Strategy to Another Level

In my last blog, I described how incorporating our dog therapy into the topic of visualization created a more engaging learning climate for children which resulted in richer and more thoughtful children’s answers describing their book scene visualization. As a result, for this week, we decided to extend the activity a bit.

Our visit started as usually. I came in with Carmel and took her around the classroom to allow all children to greet her by petting. Children are always so excited to see her. Then, the teacher told them that I would be reading my book From Unruly to Therapy Dog again and they would visualize again. This time, however, after verbally visualizing, they would also draw a picture of their visualizations. 

As I was reading, the teacher was taking Carmel around the classroom. When I came to the visualization part, I asked children to visualize by closing their eyes when I was reading the scene. The part I asked them to visualize talked about the time when our new dog trainer came to our house to help us train Carmel for the purpose of being able to walk her with less pulling on her part. With the trainer’s help, we started using a special harness inside the house and then went outside to practice more. After children visualized, they told me all their ideas. It was evident that almost every child added more details to the details mentioned in the scene. For instance, one child said how Carmel was looking at the trainer or how I was worried that Carmel was going to ruin some flowers outside as we tried to walk her with her new harness. Some children even raised their hands for the second time to offer more visualization to what they already said. 

Then, I asked them to draw their visualizations. While they were drawing, I was walking around the classroom, checking their pictures, and having conversations about their choices. It was clear that they were adding their own and creative details. For instance, one boy drew the trainer with a big hat and green outfit. 

The next step was to allow children to write about their visualizations based on their verbal recalling and pictures. I cannot wait to debrief about the results with the teacher. 

This is one of the many ways I hope to inspire children in the Carmel Therapy Dog App. Children can write stories with dog characters or even with Carmel as a character. Since Carmel and I can only be at one place at a time, we published the app as a way to allow children to interact with Carmel and get creative. The app can also be used as a tool by teachers who want to incorporate writing and creativity into their classroom – a way to inspire stories and creativity in children in a manner similar to the way Carmel inspires children in the classroom. If you are a parent or a teacher, or know a child you believe could benefit from the app in this way, feel free to check it out at the link below and come write with us!

Get the Carmel’s Therapy Dog App 

by Barbara

illustrative media

A Reading Strategy

March 21, 2022 in Therapy Dogs

In our last blog, I described how incorporating our dog therapy into the topic of kindness created a more engaging learning climate for children which resulted in richer and more thoughtful children’s answers. It turns out that our next visit was just as successful.

When Carmel and I entered the classroom, children were very excited to see and pet Carmel. Then,  the teacher told the children that I will be reading my own book, From unruly to a therapy dog, and the children will do some visualizing activities with me. As I was reading the book, the teacher took Carmel and was walking with her around the classroom.

I read the beginning of the book in an interactive way, which means that I was answering children’s questions that they had during my reading or engaged them in a conversation. They were so interested in learning about how Carmel became a part of our family. Then, I told them to listen carefully as I was going to read a part  during which I would ask them to close their eyes and visualize, which means to create a picture or a movie in their mind in order to see the scene I was going to read. As they closed their eyes, I read the part about how Carmel pulled terribly during our walks. After that I asked them to open their eyes and tell me about what they saw. It turns out that children’s visualizations were amazing. They even had additional details that were not in that particular scene, such as how Carmel pulled so much that she almost torn her harness.

Children’s responses were so inspirational that I told them that they could be book authors themselves because they can create vivid, fabulous scenes with these visualizations. They were delighted to hear it.

When I later debriefed with the teacher, she confirmed that children’s engagement is just so different with Carmel around. She also mentioned something incredible. Throughout the school day, the children often refer to Carmel and say things such as “We have to learn how to be more patient because Carmel is a very patient dog.” With statements like that, it’s very clear that Carmel is more than a dog for these children. She is a superhero – mentor- like figure for them.

This is one of the many ways I hope to inspire children in the Carmel Therapy Dog App. Children can write stories with dog characters or even with Carmel as a character. Since Carmel and I can only be at one place at a time, we published the app as a way to allow children to interact with Carmel and get creative. The app can also be used as a tool by teachers who want to incorporate writing and creativity into their classroom – a way to inspire stories and creativity in children in a manner similar to the way Carmel inspires children in the classroom. If you are a parent or a teacher, or know a child you believe could benefit from the app in this way, feel free to check it out at the link below and come write with us!

Get the Carmel Therapy Dog App