'It's magic': Mandurah Story Dogs boost children's confidence

Biscuit pictured with Frederick Irwin Year 2 student Ysabella Wade and owner Wendy Summers. Photo: Claire Sadler.
Biscuit pictured with Frederick Irwin Year 2 student Ysabella Wade and owner Wendy Summers. Photo: Claire Sadler.

When Biscuit the dog comes to visit Frederick Irwin Anglican Primary School an argument often ensues among classmates about who gets to see him.

Once a week, a handful of lucky children leave their Year 2 classroom to spend 20 minutes of one-on-one time reading with Wendy Summers and Biscuit.

It is part of a program called Story Dogs, which has been running in Mandurah since 2016.

Across Mandurah, there are 15 teams of volunteers and dogs going into nine primary schools every week.

Frederick Irwin Year 2 teacher Karen Bond said the results for students were "massive".

"The students love seeing Biscuit and they often have arguments over who can go," she laughed.

"We've noticed a massive difference in overall confidence not just in their reading. Their overall personalities are stronger.

"They're also more confident to answer questions and they want to ask questions as well, which is a big change for a lot of children that usually don't put their hand up in case they're saying something wrong."

Tyler Hall shaking Biscuit's hand after his reading session is over. Photo: Supplied.

Tyler Hall shaking Biscuit's hand after his reading session is over. Photo: Supplied.

Mandurah coordinator Amanda Milroy said the program was a simple concept yet highly effective.

"What happens with the children is just magic," she said.

"One time I was pulled aside by a teacher and she told me that she hadn't heard this girl speak in class with her peers much at all.

"The teacher warned she might not talk to me directly for a while. So I just talked with the child about the dog and the books and within five minutes she was talking to me voluntarily about her dogs at home.

"The next week I took the dog in for a session in the classroom and she spoke in class. The dog just made her totally relaxed."

Komila Urgine says she enjoys her time reading to Biscuit. Photo: Supplied.

Komila Urgine says she enjoys her time reading to Biscuit. Photo: Supplied.

Frederick Irwin Anglican Primary School principal Noah Clark said the program also taught children how to respect animals.

"A lot of our families don't have pets and don't interact with animals on a regular basis," he said.

"To learn how to interact with the dog respectfully is just as important as the therapeutic benefits the children are getting."

Volunteer Wendy said she didn't know whether her or Biscuit enjoyed the reading days more.

"The dog really is special and magic to students and it just makes them want to read more," she said.

"Volunteering for this program is a delightful commitment."

May 7 is Story Dogs Day, the charity's major fundraising event.

With the lingering impact from COVID-19 and a growing backlog of schools on the waiting list, the program needs public support more than ever to help struggling children with their reading.

To donate or sponsor a dog go to the website.

Amanda said the Mandurah team are also always looking for more volunteers. To get in contact with her call 0417993497 or email amanda@storydogs.org.au