Goodrington School, Hornchurch, teams up with charity Pets as Therapy for ‘Read 2 Dogs’ scheme

Children at a Hornchurch primary school have been getting to know a gentle dog who prefers books to barks and can’t help getting lost – in a good story.

Each week, Phoebe the labradoodle – along with her owner Dorothy Wood – visits Goodrington School, in Walden Road, so a group of youngsters can improve their reading skills by telling her stories.

“We just thought it was a good way to get less confident readers to open up more and increase their confidence and self-esteem,” said office manager Jo Williams. “They are less nervous about reading to a dog than they are about reading to a person.

“One child is very fearful of dogs but at the last session he actually stroked her – so as well as reading it helps overcome fear of dogs.”

Phoebe and Dorothy are registered with national charity Pets as Therapy, which organised the sessions after headteacher Rosalind Ellenby got in touch.

And Goodrington is the first school in Havering to benefit from the charity’s Read 2 Dogs scheme.

“We’ve identified five children who are reserved about reading and lack confidence,” Jo explained. “We’re going to do the sessions with them for the rest of the autumn term, and then we’ll look to expand it to other children as well.”

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The school’s latest visit from Phoebe took place on Tuesday and saw the children reading books from the Oxford Reading Tree series, including Our Holiday Lost in the Cave.

Each child enjoys 15 minutes of one-to-one reading time with Phoebe. The dog is kept on a lead and a teaching assistant from the school leads the session, but children are encouraged to focus on their furry listener, explaining unusual words and describing pictures.

Even though Phoebe has only visited the school twice so far, she’s already having an effect on the children.

“Even after the first session it was just fantastic,” said Jo. “They really wanted to read. We want them to enjoy reading rather than it becoming another chore.

“She’s a lovely dog,” she added. “When she falls asleep we just say she’s closing her eyes so she can concentrate on the story.”