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Children improve skills via ‘READing with Erma’

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — Children in and around Dover-Foxcroft have the opportunity to get more comfortable and confident with their word skills thanks to “READing with Erma.”

Erma is a 7-year-old German shorthaired pointer and her handler April Taylor is a resident of Lakeland, Florida who summers in Sebec. Erma is registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. and she is a Reading Education Assistance Dog. Founded by Intermountain Therapy Dog in Utah, READ handlers and their registered therapy dogs go through testing and continuing education in order to provide the free service to children in the community.

“For the last 12 summers my family and I have been coming to Maine,” Taylor said. “We love it here and wanted to get more involved with Erma in the community. She has been going to the Thompson Free Library these last two summers and reading with children each week. The kids get to relax and snuggle up to a non-judgemental listener and read a book of their choosing.

Photo courtesy of April Taylor
ERMA’S BOOKS ON THE BUS — Jaxson Zimmerman, 12 of Sebec, a volunteer with Erma’s Books on the Bus, pictured with Erma the READing dog. Erma’s Books on the Bus is a free program providing quality reading material to SeDoMoCha School students on their bus ride.

“This year we also went to SeDoMoCha’s summer camp and there were around 35 children that over the course of four weeks got to read to Erma as well. When I learned that some of the children who ride the bus have a 20-minute journey one way I thought I might be able to implement Erma’s Books on the Bus for SeDoMoCha. I originally started the program in Florida with two schools that Erma and I volunteer at on a regular basis. These are Title 1 elementary schools and sometimes the children wait a long time for their bus ride home or have a distance to travel. Most don’t have devices at their age so I thought it might be nice if they had something to read. I didn’t want them to think about school or homework, I wanted them to have books that they could escape into. I feel that any time I can get a book into a child’s hand I have got them one step closer to becoming a lifetime reader.”

Erma’s Books on the Bus is a free program providing quality reading material to children on their ride to and from school on the bus. Over 800 books provided by April Taylor, the SeDoMoCha School, Thompson Free Library and families go on 17 school buses with containers of 30-40 books each.

The bus will have a volunteer “librarian” that will make sure the books are returned, and stowed away according to the driver’s wishes. The children will each receive a special T-shirt, certificate and recognition. At a predetermined time organizers will switch out the book containers so the children have many different books to read through the school year. All books will have a Erma’s Books on the Bus sticker to encourage a return to the containers, and this is the only program of its kind that has a therapy dog as a proponent.

Photo courtesy of April Taylor
READING WITH ERMA — Cecelia Tibbets, 8, with Erma at the Thompson Free Library in Dover-Foxcroft.

“We began going to the library to read in 2018,” Taylor said about Reading with Erma at the Thompson Free Library. “Every Wednesday during the summer at 2 p.m. we are able to have a quiet corner and read with children who sign up. Erma and I both love it! We spend about 15 minutes reading with each child and Erma is notorious for have treats for the kids each week. There have been children that have been coming for the two years and some new additions. By the end of the summer I can see improvements in their confidence in reading aloud. This year we sponsored the prizes for the children’s reading program.”

“I approached the school to do a truncated version of the program for summer camp,” she said. “It was a big hit! We had so many children sign up that instead of doing the program like I do in Florida we changed it around to accommodate the most children. I like to work with the same 16 children during the school year so that they can see the most improvement. But since the summer school is only four weeks long we opened it up to everyone. We were also able to read each week to the special education class during their summer session. Erma really enjoyed the children and it was very sweet to see the kids’ reaction to Erma. I hope to continue the program next year when we arrive in May.”

Taylor said the Erma’s Free Little Library program began “when I noticed the free little library in front of one of the schools where I volunteer was falling apart. I volunteered to take it home and see if I could repair it. When my husband Andy saw it he decided he could make a new one easier than repairing it. After making our fifth library he might have regretted that! We placed a library at the Sebec Village boat landing and one at the entrance to SeDoMoCha. From all accounts they have been very popular. We have had fun doing this and I hope to build more.”

Photo courtesy of April Taylor
READING TIME — Chloe Pratt, 6, with April Taylor and Erma at the Thompson Free Library.

Children can also take part in Bedtime Stories with Erma at Facebook.com/readingtherapydog/. “When I go to schools with Erma to read, whether to kindergarten classes or one-on-one reading with underperforming students,, we have the opportunity to read great children’s books,” Taylor said. “This brought back wonderful memories of reading to my son at bedtime. Unfortunately many children miss out on this ritual. I thought that I might be able to reach children through the internet with Erma by my side.

“So Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on Facebook Live we get into bed, with me in my pajamas, and read a bedtime story. I try to explain words or situations that they might not understand. I began doing this in March and we recently had our 100th reading! I wasn’t sure if I should keep it up during the summer but we have had many new viewers. I hope that eventually parents will see that they don’t need a lady and her dog to read to their children and that they take up where I left off.

Photo courtesy of April Taylor
ERMA’S BOOKS ON THE BUS — Jelena Pingree with Erma the READing Dog at the SeDoMoCha School in Dover-Foxcroft.

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