THEY HAVE BEEN MAN’S best friend for thousands of years.
But only now are the benefits of learning with dogs being realised in Welsh classrooms.
Schools in south-west Wales have opened their doors to humble hounds in a bid to raise pupils’ confidence and self-esteem.
The innovative ‘Burns By Your Side’ scheme helps children in a variety of settings to develop their reading and communication skills.
One head teacher has spoken of the ‘calming effect’ it has had on pupils with special educational needs.
The scheme provides targeted pupils with the opportunity to read – on a weekly or fortnightly basis – to a volunteer and their dog, usually in sessions running over the course of a school term.
Typically, a volunteer will spend around 15 minutes with a child on an individual basis and keep a short record of each session.
To date, the scheme has involved a small number of schools (primary, secondary and special) and settings – such as libraries and nurseries – across the south-west Wales region.
An initial study to explore the impact of bringing dogs into classrooms, facilitated by researchers at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) Yr Athrofa – Institute of Education, has unearthed some promising results.
All schools and all children involved have reported favourably on the initiative and teachers have noted that pupils respond positively to the presence of the dogs, look forward to sessions and are keen to take part.
Helen Lewis, Primary PGCE Programme Lead and UWTSD’s Burns By Your Side co-ordinator, said: “The dog is a non-judgemental listener, whose very presence may calm and relax reluctant and anxious readers.
“With well-versed handlers acting to support the reading process, the act of reading to a dog can support children in making meaning of text and can encourage them to express personal responses in a safe environment.
“Dogs do not judge, glance at their watch if it is taking a long time to read a page, or sigh in frustration at mistakes – they are willing companions and their silence speaks volumes.”
Following the success of the reading with dogs pilot study, Burns By Your Side is now working with UWTSD and a greater number of schools in order to undertake a more rigorous body of research.
Organisers are conducting a mixed-methods, systematic review into the impact of reading with dogs on metacognition, attitudes to learning and reading levels in classrooms across South Wales.
In each of the 12 schools currently engaged with the project, four to six children who are struggling to make progress in reading have been identified and receive weekly sessions with the visiting dog and handler.
At the start of the project the children were given baseline assessments, such as standardised reading tests and other measures of attitude towards learning.
A similar group of children who were not in the intervention group were also given the same tests to provide a control measure.
At the end of the intervention, which will have lasted for an academic year, the tests will be repeated and results analysed.
Sports groups take over lease at Canolfan Carwyn centre
SPORTS groups in the Drefach area have teamed up to take over the running of the Canolfan Carwyn Centre.
The centre, owned by Carmarthenshire County Council, was due to close at the end of the summer due to budget restraints.
However, the two local county councillors, Aled Vaughan Owen and Darren Price, together with a number of sporting groups, came together to save the facility.
They formed Grwp Canolfan Carwyn and took out a lease to keep the centre open, running it themselves.
Organisations include Gwendraeth squash club; Drefach, Bancffosfelen and Tumble Colts football teams; Pontyberem Rugby Club; Gorlas Community Council; Bobby’s Boxing Gym; and other members of the community.
Gorslas Community Council donated £1,000, and all other clubs committed to using the facility on a regular basis.
The organisation is currently looking for volunteers to help out in any way they can, including opening and closing, general maintenance, cleaning, booking and marketing.
The groups hope to extend the activities at the centre to include things such as gymnastics, concerts, children’s parties, and a range of other events.
Cllr Vaughan Owen said: “We are appealing to the community to help us make a success of the Canolfan Carwyn Centre.
“We feel it is important to the area and although we understand the potential pitfalls we are confident with the right support we can secure its long-term future.
“In the words of the late, great Carwyn James, who the centre is named after, ‘Take a risk or two, make a few mistakes. As long as you are adventurers, I won’t mind.’
“With the energy from local sports teams and members of the community, the centre can be kept open with the potential not only to secure the future of certain sport and fitness opportunities in the community, but also to develop new initiatives that expand the services provided.”
The centre was one of a number of recreational assets offered for transfer or lease by Carmarthenshire County Council.
To date, there has been interest shown in around 82% of sites available, with around half of these already being taken over by local organisations.
The county council’s executive board member for assets Cllr David Jenkins said: “This is another excellent example of a community working together to secure the future of a local facility.
“Well done to all those groups and individuals who have made this commitment, I wish them every success for the future.”
Soprano’s show-stopping turn on Stepney Street
A CANADIAN soprano wowed shoppers in Llanelli town centre this week, as she gave a stunning performance to raise funds for Breast Cancer Now.
Kyla Lingley received loud applause from passers-by on Stepney Street as they stopped in their tracks to listen to her outstanding vocals and generously donate to her charity bucket.
During Kyla’s studies in Ontario, the talented lady won the INCO Search for Excellence Award for her pristine vocals. Since this time, her career has taken some exciting turns which have led her to England and Wales. She has performed in numerous operas and concerts and has even sung live on BBC Television with Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in front of an audience of 75,000 people.
Kyla has chosen to devote her time when she’s not in performance mode to avidly raising funds for the Breast Cancer Now Charity. This has been achieved through giving outdoor performances in shopping malls at various UK locations.
Kylas’ mission is to uplift others and possibly inspire them through her love of music as it plays such an integral part of everyday life. Her core belief is to help others whenever possible through her voice.
Wartime high tea a success
A WARTIME-THEMED high tea party to help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s was held in Llanelli’s Selwyn Samuel Centre last week.
The party, which will become a monthly event, saw residents from four care homes – Y Plas, Hafan Y Coed, Ashley Court and Y Bwthyn – in attendance, and the Lliedi Suite at the centre was packed to its 250 person capacity.
Visitors enjoyed a fantastic buffet with abundant tea and coffee, and staff got in on the fun, donning war-themed outfits.
The afternoon which was the first of its kind in the Selwyn Samuel Centre definitely catered to the older generation and the entertainment was first class.
Female duo The Jazzabelles wowed the audience with wartime hits such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘How Much Is That Doggy In the Window’.
The street party catered for all but especially for those living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Cream tea and unlimited food was at a cost of just £7.50 per person and was clear value for money.
Alison Davies, Sue John and Kian Disalvo were the event managers and they couldn’t do enough to keep their guests happy throughout the duration.
A spokesperson for the event said: “We feel that today went very well. We always try hard to aim to cater to everyone’s needs. Our buffets are made from scratch and the Selwyn Samuel Centre caters for all within the community. We take the utmost care in the running of our events and have different types of events for all walks of life.
“Our events can be ghost nights to cream teas all the way to tribute nights. Today’s wartime event has definitely been a more than colourful indoor street party and the WW2 theme has worked well with plenty of happy visitors from the local care homes who without a doubt have happily reminisced.
“Our rooms are always available for hire and the staff at the centre are first class. The next of our forthcoming events are to be held on November 7 and December 5. A warm welcome is extended to all.”
To book a place for the next themed event, telephone 07729 655114.
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