I think the best learning curriculum for children in this troubled world include a dog.
One of the grades Carmel and I visit is second grade. This particular second grade has a wonderful teacher. What I love about this teacher is her incredible interest in making Carmel’s visits as useful as possible in order to teach children something special, something that helps them in learning about the world and themselves. Therefore, for this teacher, talking about Carmel to children occurs any time during the school day, not just during our therapy visit.
As we know, many school children, particularly in younger grades, are affected by the pandemic disruption and therefore their language skills, including writing, are not as high as they should be. Therefore, the idea of using a therapy dog in order to motivate children to write seems to be really promising. If this second grade loves Carmel so much and is inspired by her, it is motivational for them to write something that connects to Carmel. That means that writing for them will be a little bit easier and much more engaging.
For instance, next week we are going to have kindness as a theme in the second grade. If we think about kindness, probably several things come to our minds as far as what makes us kind. How do you make this abstract noun tangible and concrete for children? How do you make them understand what it really means to be kind and what a kind person really does. As the second grade teacher and I were brainstorming ideas for connecting therapy visits with kindness, we came up with an idea of asking children first how Carmel shows that she’s kind, what exactly she does that shows that she is a kind dog. Children know Carmel and observe her, so they will be able to say based on their observations how Carmel projects her kindness. From there, we can ask children to apply the kind behavior Carmel projects to their behavior, of course with a modification because children are people and Carmel is a dog, so not everything Carmel does children should do.
As the children will come up with all those kindness ideas, this discussion and talk can turn to a little writing activity in which children will express what kindness is and how they can learn from Carmel how to be kind.
To conclude, this example shows how the presence of therapy dogs in the classroom can go beyond the therapeutic value. They can really connect and be a part of real educational curriculum in the classroom. In the case of the second grade, the teacher frequently speaks to children about my dog, how she became trained therapy dog, and the journey to becoming a therapy dog. In this way, my dog and the visits are intertwined with children’s school day and teaching curriculum in the most organic, natural ways. It’s never just about our weekly visit. These visits live throughout the whole school day in both hearts and minds of children.
What other topic ideas would you have that could be taught to children in this way?
Find some more ideas about the connection between therapy dogs and children’s education by downloading our app, Carmel’s Therapy Dog App, on androids:
Check it out here! It’s awesome!