Project Resilience: Dogs And Children

May 19, 2020

Barbara Abbott holding her Golden Apple award.
Credit Courtesy of Barbara Abbott.

As part of the Utah Public Radio series, Project Resilience, we hear from retired Northern Utah teacher Barbara Abbott, who remembers times she would take her wayward dog Cedar Bear to work with students at Hillcrest Elementary.

Barbra Abbott: Cedar Bear was so difficult. He was chewing up things-- chewing up books, spectacles, really in trouble all the time. I decided one day, “I'm going to take him to school and just see what happens.”

The teachers had heard stories about Cedar Bear. When I took him, on my way into my classroom, the teachers gasped and said, “oh, no, it's not that dog you've told us stories about for so long, is it?” And it was.

 

So funny a thing, that first day that he was there to meet the kids, he sat down and looked at me as though he was saying, “what can I do for you?” And I devised a behavioral motivational program that my children were part of. I decided that the classroom behavior would be on them a little bit. If my kids could earn 20 marbles for great behavior over several days, then Cedar Bear would come and visit for a day. They loved him. They spent the day with him. They were very motivated. 

And so we had a rotation. I would divide it as equally as I could into three groups. And the day that they earned Cedar Bear, during one of the three sessions on the day that Cedar Bear came, they would read out loud to Cedar Bear. 

Each group would have a chance to spend about 45 minutes and they would read out loud, quietly, their own book of their choosing. And at first, they really had a hard time with that because they couldn't understand how Cedar Bear could listen to all of them, but they were quiet, it was not a disorganized thing. 

The other kids were in the other two groups, and they needed to concentrate on their skills. So the kids were very respectful and it was just a little bit above a whisper. But I assured them that dogs have an incredible talent that they can really listen to many children at the same time. 

In the beginning, some of the kids were hesitant, but as the time went on, they were just so excited to have this day with Cedar Bear. Some of these kids hated to read when they came to my classroom. Some of them were terrified. They said they couldn't read. Every child was reading. Every child was motivated to read because then they knew they were going to get to read to Cedar Bear. 

It was such a privilege for Cedar Bear to listen to their reading and how it improved and they knew that nobody was listening to them except Cedar Bear and they loved that. They could just be free. If they were nervous in the past, they got to the point where they were comfortable because they trusted Cedar Bear and knew that he was going to listen and only be pleased.

And what I saw happen before my eyes was these children put the pressure on each other to follow directions and be attentive to be motivated to be on task. And I didn't really have to do much of anything except commend them. When I caught them really being attentive and motivated I would drop some marbles in the jar.

 

They would say things to each other like, “quiet, Mrs. Abbott is talking. Don't talk right now, please be quiet. We need Cedar Bear.’” And they'd elbow each other, “do your homework, get your homework done so we can earn Cedar Bear.” They were not unkind to each other. 

 

So it was kind of out of my hands a little bit. And I loved that. It was just really remarkable to see the change in my dog and to see the change in the children. I just felt like my job was so much better done because of this furry, four legged friend in the classroom with me