Furry, four-legged teachers

Furry, four-legged teacher aids have moved into the classroom to help kids develop skills needed at school.

UBC Okanagan’s BARK program (Building Academic Retention through K9s) has been mentoring 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club. The six-week program will help build the children’s leadership and social skills.

The pilot program is designed to build evidence for expansion regionally, and nationally, says BARK director John-Tyler Binfet, who conducts research on the effects of animal-assisted therapy.

Binfet an assistant professor in UBCO's Faculty of Education says the students, who are at a critical stage in social development, will participate in series of skill-building sessions developed by the faculty. 

“This particular time in a child’s life is critical to establishing empathy, leadership, and social skills,” says Binfet. “The presence of a therapy dog will ensure youth who may require additional support in building this skill-set are emotionally and socially supported.”

The evidence is clear, he says, that interactions with therapy dogs can positively affect well being, particularly in stressful situations. Youth are vulnerable during the transition into adulthood, and Binfet says this pilot program was created with the specific goal of fostering life-long skills for success.

“The initial feedback from students, afterschool leaders, parents, and the UBC community has been overwhelmingly positive. This program builds confidence and skills but has bridged children to the UBC community.”

“The best part of the program is witnessing the children’s excitement,” says Paula Buchanan, program area leader for the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club. ­­­“The children are building confidence right before our eyes.”

The program is supported by the Telus Thompson-Okanagan Community Board Fund.

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