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Reading dog makes literacy fun in Southwest Finland

Young visitors to Kimito Library have been spending time at the local library reading to an Icelandic Sheepdog named Hilma. She's a very good listener.

Library dog Hilma with Samuel Fors and Pontus Engdal in Kimito, Southwest Finland
Reading dog Hilma with Samuel Fors and Pontus Engdal at the local library in Kimito, Southwest Finland. Image: Yle/Peter Petrelius

Kimito library's new reading companion, a dog named Hilma, is lying on the library floor waiting for her next assignment. In a little while some fifth graders are scheduled to arrive for a reading session with the library's new four-legged staff member.

Hilma's owner Seija Sjöhom said the dog's job description is exclusively to sit and listen to kids read aloud. If someone asks a question, she'll answer but Hilma won't bark if the reader makes a mistake, she said.

"Studies have shown that reading companion dogs help people to relax," she said, saying the idea of using dogs as literacy assistants was sparked some time ago in the United States.

Hilma is an unusually active, four-year-old Icelandic Sheepdog. While she's not at the library Hilma spends her time herding her owner's cows and also regularly works as a companion dog, regularly visiting schools, day care centres and elder care homes.

During her free time Hilda catches mice and rats around Sjöholm's farm.

"She loves people and likes other animals and dogs too," Sjöholm said.

Good listener, not critical

Fifth graders Samuel Fors and Pontus Engdal arrived to the library to read from a series of books about a man who takes historic, time-travelling journeys.

The boys said they think Hilma is fun to have around and that they think she'll like the stories they plan to read aloud.

Their teacher, Annalena Röblom, said she's excited about the reading dog, saying it's the boys' first time reading with her.

Röblom said there was no hesitation when the library contacted the school to invite students to come meet Hilda.

"We said yes immediately. The dog might also be coming to visit the school and that would almost be more fun, because then even more kids would be able to participate," Röblom said.

She said her students get excited about reading aloud for the do, saying it's a totally different experience than reading aloud for other kids or a teacher.

"Maybe the best thing about it is that the kids start thinking that reading aloud is fun to do and get to have positive experiences reading. No one is there to correct mispronunciations, the dog listens regardless of how well you can read," Röblom said.

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