FURever As Friends a confidence booster for kids

Township library program aims to improve reading skills

In order to give some much-needed confidence to kids who lack confidence in their reading skills, the township library offers the FURever as Friends reading program twice a month.

FURever As Friends is an organization made up of volunteers and their certified pet-therapy teams,” said the library’s head of youth services, Stephanie Smith. “FURever As Friends brings their reading program S.M.I.L.E. (Silent Mentors in Literacy Education) to multiple libraries so children can practice their reading skills to a non-judgemental audience of animals.

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“The reading programs are geared towards families,” she added. “Children of all ages are welcome, even those who are not yet reading. They can make up a story to go along with a book or just show the pets pictures. 

“Learning how to hold a book, turn the pages and how stories are told is all part of literacy education.”

The program was created by Sharon and John Bednar in 2013, according to Smith. The duo were volunteering for another organization when they decided to create one of their own. Nearly 10 years later, kids can practice reading to both cats and dogs at the Mullica Hill, Glassboro, Swedesboro and Logan Township branches of the county library system.

“There are so many benefits of this program,” Smith explained. “Children who are struggling readers or hesitant to read aloud feel more relaxed and less stressed when reading to an animal, because they can’t criticize, correct or judge the child. Not only do they enhance their reading skills, but they also gain the confidence needed to read aloud more or try more challenging books.” 

Smith added that reading to a therapy animal also encourages patience and allows a child to read at his or her own pace. Parents can also benefit from the program, because children are willingly reading to therapy animals, whereas at home, it may be a struggle.

The next FURever As Friends session will be on Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Attendees can contact youth services to register for a 15-minute time slot by calling (856) 223-6029. There is no registration fee and more information can be found on the county library system’s website.

“You don’t have to have a library card to attend any of the events,” Smith noted. “This is one of those programs that is a must at any library. We’ve been going strong for almost 10 years and we are not stopping anytime soon. 

“I mean, who wouldn’t want to cuddle up to a cute dog or cat and read their favorite book?”

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