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We Are All Ears: A Worldwide Read with Pets Project from Pet Partners

Elisabeth Van Every
Young boy reads to a dog while laying on a bed.
Young boy reads to a dog while laying on a bed.

Programs where children read to therapy animals have long been a part of AAI. Our Read With Me™ initiative gives schools, libraries, and therapy animal teams tools and resources for setting up animal-assisted reading programs onsite. But with stay at home orders and social isolation measures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, reading visits at schools and libraries aren’t an option in many places. At the same time, many families are experiencing educational disruptions and seeking ways to support their children with home learning. How do you keep up the momentum that comes from reading to pets when in-person reading programs aren’t possible?

We Want to Help!

Our latest reading project, We Are All Ears, is designed to support youth literacy through reading to pets at home. As we deal with social distancing and at-home schooling, Pet Partners is encouraging families and children all over the world to read to their pets. Reading to pets is an amazing way to get children excited about reading, and to help support overall educational efforts at home.

This project is for every kid who has a pet they can read to, every family who wants to encourage reading time, and every person who wants to help keep children reading. Anyone can take part! We want to have readers and pets all across the country and around the world teaming up to read.

Getting Started

To start your We Are All Ears project at home, sign our reading pledge. You can choose your reader’s goal, whether that’s a specific number of books, or a number of days, hours, or minutes read — it can be customized to suit your specific needs and focus. You can also tell us what pets you’ll be reading to, and there’s no restriction on the species! While we expect a lot of dogs and cats will be read to, we hope to see people reading to other types of animals as well. Maybe there are bunnies, frogs, rats, ponies, or backyard chickens who would enjoy story time too.

When you sign the pledge, you also get access to fun and helpful resources to get your home reading program underway:

  • Our Fact Sheet includes information on the proven benefits of reading to pets, plus simple and helpful tips for setting up reading sessions.
  • A reading log will help your reader track progress to their pledge goal.
  • A special bingo card has great ideas for ways to engage readers and keep them pursuing their goal.
  • Cute bookmark templates to color and cut out give readers a fun option to stay connected with the idea of reading to pets and offer a break from other activities.
  • A Certificate of Completion to present to your child and pet upon reaching their goals – pretty much equivalent to an honorary “dogtorate” degree!

To access the resources, just sign our reading pledge and get started on your personalized reading project!

You can also purchase our official We Are All Ears T-shirt! They’re available in a variety of colors and sizes, including youth sizes. Proceeds from the sale of these shirts benefit Pet Partners and bring awareness to the value of reading with pets.

The Benefits of Reading to Pets 

Children who are learning to read are often hesitant about their reading abilities. Many kids feel more at ease reading to pets, who are simply there to listen — not to judge how well they are reading. Even when it’s not feasible to read to pets in a structured program, it’s still worthwhile to provide opportunities for young readers to read with an animal. Research shows that there are numerous benefits to reading to an animal:

  • In a 2013 study that looked at the impact of therapy animals on youth literacy rates, students who worked with the dogs demonstrated levels of improvements with net gains of more than a year’s growth in reading rate, accuracy, fluency and comprehension (Treat, 2013).
  • When looking at the impact of reading to an animal in a population of homeschooled students, it was found that reading to a dog significantly impacted student reading rates (Smith, 2010).
  • Kindergarten children who were a part of a dog reading group achieved higher end-of-year reading scores as compared to a control group that did not include a therapy dog (Kirnan, Siminerio, & Wong, 2016).
  • A pilot study found that children were better able to stay on-task in their reading program when a therapy dog was involved (Bassette & Taber-Doughty, 2013).
  • A literature review found that reading to a dog may positively impact children’s behavior, thus contributing to the creation of a learning environment that fosters enhanced reading performance (Hall, Gee, & Mills, 2016).
  • Reading aloud to a therapy dog team tended to increase children’s scores on a test of oral reading fluency much more than reading aloud to peers (Levinson et al., 2017).

Learn more about the benefits of reading to pets from Pet Partners Chief Mission Officer Mary Margaret Callahan. She joined Elanco on their Rediscovering the Power of Healthy Animals podcast to discuss how reading to pets supports youth literacy and the ways We Are All Ears can support those benefits.

Ways to Participate

One of the great things about We Are All Ears is that it offers a variety of ways to participate — no matter what your circumstances are, there’s a way you can read! While the focus of this project is to get kids and pets reading together, teens and adults can also take part. Here are some ideas for ways you can use We Are All Ears to encourage reading in your family and community.

  • You could set up a family reading challenge, where each person pledges to spend time reading each day (to a pet or with one nearby).
  • Teens or kids might want to make a pledge with friends. You could choose to read the same book at home with your pets, and have text or video chats about your progress.
  • Adults could pledge to read with pets as part of a virtual book club, or as motivation to make sure you take some downtime to read and cuddle with your pets.
  • Set up video reading sessions with friends and family, where everyone can follow along with the same book.
  • Take photos or record videos of your reading sessions, and share them on social media so others can enjoy the reading. (You can even tag us with #PetPartners and #WeAreAllEars.)
  • What if you don’t have kids, or don’t have a pet of your own? Set up phone or video reading sessions with kids in your extended family or your friend groups, and with those who do have pets. Kids could read to the pets of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other extended family. People who have pets could hold a video reading session with their friends’ kids and have their pets join them.
  • If reading to pets isn’t an option, consider sitting outside to read to your local wildlife. Or have your stuffed animals join you for a reading session!

Spread the Word!

In addition to setting up your We Are All Ears project at home, we want you to spread the word about it! This project is a valuable way to support so many families and educators as we continue to deal with restrictions due to the pandemic. Help your community learn about this great project and get more kids reading:

  • Challenge three of your social media contacts to take the pledge with you. Tag them, tell them you’re challenging them to join you, and give them the link to the pledge.
  • Tell your local schools and libraries — even your children’s teachers! They might want to incorporate these sessions into remote education options, or host some remote video reading sessions for kids and pets to sit in on.
  • Get in touch with your local media. TV stations, local newspapers, and other media outlets are interested in positive, uplifting stories that show how communities are dealing with social isolation. Tell them about We Are All Ears and your reading projects. We have a media template to get you started.
  • You can also view the video of our Facebook Live session about We Are All Ears, which has info and suggestions in a friendly, casual format.

Let Us Know You’re Reading

However you choose to take part, make sure to tell us about it! Post your reading photos, videos, challenges, and ideas on social media using #PetPartners and #WeAreAllEars. And follow our social media channels and the hashtags to see how other people are participating. You might get some new ideas for ways to incorporate reading into your plans.

We’d love to see everyone demonstrate that We Are All Ears for reading!