They’re called ‘Labrarians’ – a new initiative by Matua Primary School to encourage its students to read.
The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls), the first since the creation of national standards in 2010, shows that New Zealand has slipped 10 places from 22nd out of 41 countries in 2011 to 32nd out of 50 last year.
However, father and son doggy duo Archie and Alfie are the two black labs on a very special mission.
“In 2010, the Veterinary School of Science at the University of California released a study of reading books with animals – dogs and children in particular,” said school librarian Kathy Palmer. “Children who read to a dog once a week for 20 minutes for 10 weeks, showed a 20 per cent increase in their reading fluency.”
Ms Palmer said she’s already seeing the benefits of having the dogs in school.
“We’ve had children here today, in our session, who have learning difficulties or need extra support in their schooling.
“Some may have anxiety issues or find it difficult to relate, or find a social connection. Those children come in and are relaxed and confident in themselves – it’s great to see them not uptight.”
One of those children is nine year old Louis Edgecombe who has learning difficulties and dyspraxia, a motor skills disorder.
Archie and Alfie have an extra special relationship with Louis, given they are his pets.
Mum, Belinda brings the dogs into the school library every Wednesday lunchtime.
“You can see his body language straight away,” she said.
“He livens up, his face comes alive. It’s like he is saying in himself that they are his family and that he is pleased to share them with his friends.”
She says the two dogs have created special bonds with many of the Matua school kids.
“I think for some children the library can be very much a safe place. It doesn’t always mean though that they are reading. But I do think having the dogs here means there is more reading going on, which draws more of those children into reading.”
As for Archie and Alfie, it seems the dynamic duo are learning too.
“Alfie has learnt all his tricks from his dad – both good and bad. He has watched and listened, he is very good at doing the right thing. He’s also very good at not just reading the older dog, but also reading people.”
Both dogs are great at helping these kids develop a love of reading – something that will benefit them in years to come.