Young children read with Roxy the therapy dog

Roxy the dog sits patiently on a blanket. Allison Tran/Courtesy 

Children ages six to 10 are encouraged to participate in a monthly event over Zoom with the Mission Viejo Library

Following the transition of in-person classes to online schooling, the Mission Viejo Public Library announced a monthly program starting on Oct. 14 called the Virtual Paw Readathon that would virtually assist children ages six to 10 with their reading skills. Hosted through Zoom meetings, Roxy, the therapy dog and her trainer who is referred to as ‘Carolyn’ by the children’s librarian, offers support and comfort to children learning to read aloud and engage in public speaking. 

“It’s one of our most beloved children’s programs, in fact,” said Allison Tran, the senior children’s librarian. 

Before the beginning of the pandemic, Roxy and her trainer have held voluntary in-person Paw Readathons at the library for several years. Roxy has gone through many years of extensive training to become a therapy dog. The library thought that their young patrons would like to continue reading to Roxy, despite being on a screen. 

“The format may be different, but the benefits remain: research shows that reading aloud to dogs has a positive impact on emerging readers,” Tran said. 

The presence of a therapy dog in the meetings offers a friendly environment for children who are intimidated while talking to adults. With the transition to online schooling at home, it has presented a challenge to many parents of young children.

“Distance learning hasn’t been all struggles, but as a parent, I worry about the social aspect that he is missing out on due to not gaining those relationships,” said Cynthia Daines, a parent of a six-year-old learning from home. 

Daines says that her six-year-old cannot effectively engage in hands-on activities with classmates to exercise teamwork at home due to the online environment. With interactive learning opportunities online, parents can take their children’s education a step further by engaging in activities with them. 

Whether it be hybrid learning or online, parents are learning how to adapt to the current situation of remote learning. However, the social aspect of online learning is not the only concern with parents. Problems with learning how to work the technology come into play as well. 

Kevin and Chiarra Acebo are working parents who are also faced with online learning complications for their 10-year-old daughter. The parents express the stress that comes into play when learning how to juggle all three of their daughters’ at-home learning schedules and daily work schedules.

“I am worried that I am not tech-savvy,” said Kevin Acebo. “I fear that she is going to miss something valuable from an in-person class environment.”

With the challenge of transitioning to online learning with younger children, virtual events such as the Virtual Paw Readathon help keep children engaged and comfortable with the online environment. With the help of Roxy and her trainer, children are able to exercise their public speaking abilities in a safe, informal setting.

Participants come to the meeting prepared with the reading material they want to use and take turns reading aloud to Roxy. The program promotes the use of many abilities, such as the ability to take turns, read-aloud, practice patience and improve both social and literary skills. 

Each session lasts for 45 minutes, part of the event is dedicated to reading and the rest is used for any questions children may want to ask Roxy’s owner. For the inaugural event on Oct. 14, Roxy and her trainer had a total of eight participants. With the next session being hosted on Nov. 18, Tran encourages parents to check out their website to sign up for the virtual reading events at no cost. 

Parents are also able to participate in other activities with their children that are offered through Zoom by the Mission Viejo Library.