Even the most polished of public speakers pauses before approaching the podium, the better to collect a few thoughts and find a little courage.
That particular type of courage begins in childhood, the first time a teacher asks you to read a passage aloud to the class or a parent requests that you recite the nightly bedtime book back to them.
The benefits of reading aloud from a young age are extraordinary, and truly essential to bolstering confidence and a connection with the written word. BARK Therapy Dogs, an organization based in Long Beach, supports this important connection by pairing pooches and young readers.
Prepare to have a sense of awww fill your heart: The child sits on the floor, next to her furry and all-ears audience member, and proceeds to read a book, beginning to finish. The therapy dogs prove to be a calm and attentive presence. They display no judgment, only affection, even as a word or two is slowly sounded out or a sentence is missed.
A dog makes an excellent listener, in short, for a new reader. Even supportive teachers and parents might be tempted to step in and correct something in the story, as the child is telling it, but a pup remains quiet through to "The End." And getting to "The End," and announcing it triumphantly, is an accomplishment for any skill-building kid.
BARK, which stands for Beach Animals Reading with Kids, "now has 170 teams" that venture out to dozens of libraries and educational facilities around Southern California. And the organization has a new feather in its cap, too: It was named as the August recipient of a "Heart to Paw" grant from San Francisco's Big Heart Pet Brands.
What to do, where to go and what to see
The $20,000 grant will help BARK in numerous ways as the organization reaches out to volunteers, searches for book donations, and connects canines with the kid community.
Want to volunteer and donate a few cherished storybooks? Find out more about BARK and how it is matching lovable, tail-wagging listeners with young readers across the region.