Guest blog post by Emily Cline
You've got brains in your head
You've got feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any
Direction you choose!
- Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat
Do you remember what it was like learning to read? Your early experiences of learning how words are written and spoken may have been with a parent or a sibling. Later on, you may have participated in group activities in school. You may have found it easy or you may have found it hard and that you needed some support.
Do you also remember the bond you had with a family pet when you were a child? A family cat or dog is often, in a sense, a child’s first friend. They learn to how to interact with another living being. They also get their first taste of unconditional love, friendship, and companionship. You may have spent hours in each other’s company, happy to just “be”.
When you are learning to read, doing so by speaking out loud what you are seeing on the page helps with your learning. But it can also be a daunting and intimidating experience! How people respond to what they hear you say can make or break your confidence – big time! When you’re taking your first baby steps developing confidence is vital. The same goes for reading and speaking the written word, a non-judgmental response helps build confidence.
Enter the cat for confidence!
Cats and kids – Dr. Seuss got it. So did the creators of classics such as Slinky Malinki and Puss in Boots. Many children have a natural empathy and bond with cats. They will often both connect, curled up in the corner, in their own world together.
For kids learning to read, the act of reading to a cat can help with developing the much-needed confidence to continue. This is especially kids who are not strong readers. There’s just quiet acceptance of what’s being said and no judgment at all. Reading aloud to a cat (or dog) gives kids a safe environment to practice this skill in their own time and without interruption. Aside from the cat that wants to sleep on the book, of course!
How reading with a cat is clever!
Reading to a cat is a confidence booster. It is also a clever strategy to help kids with both literacy and life skills in many ways. How so?
One of the ways we learn how to become self-reliant is by making our own choices and decisions. A child reading to a cat, who has been able to decide on the book they will read, has taken one step to learn to be self-reliant.
Another way to learn is to make mistakes. As a child read aloud to their feline company, they may stutter and stumble over words. With an unbiased feline audience, they can self-correct unselfconsciously in their own time.
Practice makes “perfect”
When you are learning to read repeated letters, words and phrases gradually build your skills. Learn anything through repetition, and after a while, the skill or behavior becomes second nature. Reading fluency is one of those areas that benefit from patience and practice.
Many kids have a favorite story that they like to hear over, and over again. If this sounds like your child, they may love to share their favorite story, read by themselves over, and over, to their cat!
Given some cats can sleep for up to 16 hours a day, admittedly the time to socialize is limited! However, this means your child begins to understand they may need to consider when it is a good time for both them and their cat to sit down with a book. They are then learning the art of compromise.
The cat alley here goes two ways too. Most cats love the sound of a human voice and being talked to. If they are a cat with a timid nature being read to quietly is a good way for them to spend time and be socialized into the company of people. It’s a win-win.
Cats you can visit
You don’t necessarily need to have a cat in your own home for your child to read to either. There are many organizations that have reading programs for animals. Some are dedicated to the benefits the company of a cat can bring to developing reading skills.
Schools and libraries often run reading programs in conjunction with volunteers from assistance animal groups. These good people will bring in a super kid-friendly feline or two and find a quiet room for the kids and cats to read together.
Many rescue shelters have times when kids can come in to visit and spend time reading to their cats. This very worthwhile activity helps children with reading skills, and with socializing cats waiting for new homes.
Cats you can call your own
If you are considering bringing a cat into your home think about the ages of your kids and their readiness to handle an animal safely. You also need to take into consideration where you live and whether it’s pet-friendly. And don't forget the costs of looking after a cat including their food, vaccinations, and health checks.
Cats are relatively low-maintenance. However, they still need places where they feel safe and comfortable to sleep, eat, and toilet. You will make the day of most cats if they have somewhere where they can get up high, be in a room with a view, and/or have toys to play with!
Cats are not only a popular choice as a family pet; they are also a popular companion for people with emotional support animals. Emotional support animals (ESAs) can be of benefit to people with a range of emotional and psychological conditions as part of a treatment plan.
If you are wondering about ESAs for kids under 18, talk with your child’s own health professional in the first instance. Emotional support animals have been found beneficial for kids with anxiety and autism. But always work with your health provider to establish whether an emotional support animal is a good option for your child’s condition. It is important to know everything about emotional support animal registration.