Shy pupils anxious about reading aloud in front of their classmates are being lent an ear by a four-legged friend in an attempt to boost their confidence. Nervous four and five year-olds at Wallscourt Farm Academy, in Stoke Gifford, Bristol, have been given the opportunity to raise their self-esteem by reading to the school's pet dog Noodle the spoodle. Noodle, a cross between a spaniel and a poodle, was born in the summer and has been trained to assist children's learning at the newly-opened primary school. Noodle, who is just seven months old, also provides comfort to children who confide in him rather than staff when they are anxious or upset.
Noodle, who lives with school principal Susie Weaver, started the brand new school when it opened in September, alongside his classmates.
She said: "He gives the school a real family feel. We have found that some children are a bit happier to read to a lovely furry dog that they feel really comfortable with, rather than an adult. It just feels like a step closer and more comfortable for them. They often work out their emotions through him. If they have good news or bad news, or if they are upset, they might talk through that with Noodle and me, rather than just me.
"If they are called into the office to see me, having a little stroke and chat to Noodle and already that tempo is changed and they feel happier or calmer. He allows very young children to show empathy because he is quite empathetic with them." Noodle - who is always accompanied by an adult - also plays the role of assistant school nurse when children fall over or feel poorly. Susie added: "I am sure when we first got him kids were throwing themselves at the playground to get a cuddle with Noodle until they feel better." Noodle's duties are not confined to the school, and he also accompanies children when they visit the nearby Beaufort Grange care home to cheer up residents.
Susie said: "The children go on visits and Noodle goes too and the residents really like him. He's also gone on special visits to one or two residents who like dogs. He visited one lady whose husband had just passed away and they spent quite a bit of time together. He can be very therapeutic." Noodle was specially chosen from breeders in South Wales because his calm personality means he loves being around children. He spent the summer before starting school at home with Susie to get him ready for his teaching duties. She said: "We used to board guide dogs so I already had that sense of how dogs can be wonderful and supportive creatures to have around - perfect for a primary school."