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Animal magic?

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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.

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Community

New Children’s Book based on local fisherman

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CHILDREN’S AUTHOR Natalie L Davies has written a story based on local man, Mickey Beechey, of Llangrannog.

The book is available on Amazon.

Natalie said: “I’ve written a series of children’s books with the central character, the lovely ‘Mickey the Fisherman’. The first book is called ‘Pollution’, and is a bright colourful and fun book with a valuable message.”

The book is available to buy on Amazon in both paperback and kindle, and can be found at: mybook.to/mickeythefisherman.

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Community

Council supports the Learning Disabilities ‘My Charter’

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CABINET members and senior officers in Ceredigion have signed ‘My Charter’. In doing so, Ceredigion County Council have become the first council to sign up to the charter. My Charter was written by people who have learning disabilities in West Wales.

The charter says that people who have learning disabilities want to have more chances in life, more choice and to be listened to. It also says that people who have learning disabilities want to be treated as adults, to be given dignity and respect and that their information is kept private.

Councillor Alun Williams is the Cabinet member responsible for Adult Services. He said: “People with learning disabilities have the same aspirations, hopes and feelings as everyone else. They deserve the same services and to be treated equally in a way that’s appropriate to their needs. I’m delighted that Ceredigion has become the first council to sign the charter, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this can positively influence the way our population of people with learning disabilities are treated in the future.”

The charter was developed by people who have learning disabilities from across Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.

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Community

Ceredigion Leisure Centres Summer holiday programme

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A BUSY TIMETABLE of inclusive summer holiday activities for children has been organised across all Ceredigion County Council-run leisure centres in the county.

From football to bouncy castle sessions, from cycling skills to archery, there’s a wide variety of activities to choose from over the course of the summer.

There will also be day camps and multi-skills activity days available at some of the leisure centres, for children to attend for the whole day. There’s even a day trip to the beach with Teifi Leisure Centre!

A range of learning to swim programmes are available at Lampeter Swimming Pool and Plascrug Leisure Centre across the summer holidays. A week of swimming lessons will be delivered solely through the medium of Welsh in Plascrug Leisure Centre starting on 5 August.

Councillor Catrin Miles is the council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Leisure Services. She said: “Ceredigion Actif is once again providing a busy timetable of fun activities during the summer. It’s a healthy and worthwhile way for children to spend their time during the summer.”

Booking for sessions is essential and staff at leisure centres reserve the right to cancel any session if attendance is too low.

For further information on the summer holiday activities planned, visit the Ceredigion Actif website.

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