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  • guest blogger Lynn VandenBerg

Engaging Children in Literacy with Horses

Valley Water Mill Park – Equestrian Center is a city owned park, nestled in Springfield, Missouri among rolling hills and a deep verdant valley bordered by a spring-fed stream. Following the directives of the mission statement of the Park Board, VWM-EC is committed to provide the highest quality equestrian opportunities for relaxation, stimulation, personal growth and community enrichment for the citizens of Greene County. In “plain folk” slang, we introduce “city slickers” to the wonderful world of horses in a safe and systematic manner that encourages learning for all ages.

In a community outreach effort, VWMP-EC partners with local schools to use the magic of horses to ignite a love of reading in the underserved areas of the community. Using age-appropriate horse-themed books, VWMP-EC takes a horse to the school, read a section of the book to the children, challenge the children to read and study the book for six weeks. Each child receives a copy of the book, and often it’s the first book that they can call their very own. The entire class then takes a field trip to VWMP-EC to read their favorite part of the story to a live horse, experience a 5-6 learning station rotation and barn tour. One of the rotations is reading the story to the horses one-on-one. Another rotation is story time with Brenda Bradshaw, author of Crystal Brave, reading one of her favorite chapters to the children. Often, the D.A.R.E. officer from Greene County will attend to teach about “Stranger Danger.”

Children will not learn unless they are motivated, and the excitement of reading to the horses captivates children into meeting their at-home reading goals, listening to the teachers in the classroom, and most importantly attempting to learn to read. Receiving a copy of the book(s) insures that the children have an age-appropriate book at home to practice their reading skills.

This program has steadily grown each year and is only limited by the amount of donations needed to purchase the books for each child. Many schools have funds for these programs, but many inner city schools do not have parent/teacher organizations to help fill the gap. If you are interested in sponsoring a school for a year, $700 will cover the costs of books and the program. Please contact Lynn VandenBerg at (417) 353-6168 for a tax-exempt donation information. For information on VWMP-EC, visit the web site HERE.

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