Therapy animal teams at Houston Museum of Natural Sciences help improve reading skills

Paws 4 Reading is a Read With Me program that takes place in Sugar Land, Texas. Marion Nixon, a Pet Partners evaluator and instructor, recounts some the best moments since the inception of the program below!

PAWS (Pets Are Worth Sharing) 4 Reading was introduced at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in Sugar Land, Texas in 2012. This popular program encourages children to read to registered therapy animals in a supportive environment without judgment or correction. Instead, therapy animals care for and empower children who have a desire to read and learn. Paws 4 Reading teams only give positive feedback. The program is based and directed through the Pet Partners program, Read With Me™. And while the primary goal of the program is to help children improve their reading skills, an additional benefit of the program is that the children also begin to feel more comfortable around dogs in general, especially larger ones.

Since the onset of the program in 2017, the Museum of Natural Sciences has had 10 pet teams registered through the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program that alternate attending every Friday and Saturday from 10:00-11:00 a.m. Through the commitment of the Pet Partners teams, the program has not missed a regular time slot since its inception.

Each PAWS 4 Reading therapy animal team brings their own special gifts and insights to the program. It’s wonderful to see a child, who visits the museum regularly, want to spend time with their “favorite dog.”  There are many touching stories that program originator and 30-year Pet Partners volunteer Marion Nixon has experienced since the start of the program. There was a child who actually learned to read by attending weekly sessions with a therapy dog one summer. At the start of summer, the little girl was unable to read, despite exposure to many different teaching methods. The PAWS approach of reading to a dog rather than people empowered the child to learn to read. At the end of the summer, she was comfortable reading aloud to the dog, as well as other children and even parents.

There was another heartwarming account of a little girl, who when asked what she wanted for her birthday replied to her parents that all she wanted was to come to the museum and read to the dogs, even though she was afraid of dogs. The mother contacted the museum and arranged for her to spend some time with a PAWS team. She left with smiles on a very happy birthday!

The mission of the Houston Museum of Natural Science is to advance the general knowledge of natural science and related subjects. In order to access that knowledge, a child must be able to read about, appreciate, and comprehend the world around them.

PAWS 4 Reading complements that mission by using a unique approach to encourage and stimulate children to enrich their knowledge through reading, a skill which will follow and reward them on a lifelong journey.

Story provided by Marion G Nixon, Pet Partners Instructor/Evaluator