UBC Theses and Dissertations
Skills fur life : exploring children's experience of participating in a canine-assisted social-emotional learning program Harris, Nicole Marie
Children who struggle socially and emotionally are also at risk of struggling academically. Fortunately, social emotional learning (SEL) can have significant positive effects on children’s social competence which can positively impact school success. Given the pressure of time constraints in teaching cognitive skills in addition to effectively teaching social and emotional skills, schools must employ evidence-based programs designed to develop multiple abilities. There are a variety of interventions aimed at improving children’s SEL. One such intervention that has recently shown promise in boosting children’s social-emotional skills includes the use of therapy dogs. Despite promising early findings, research to date has not yet established the extent to which interacting with dogs might influence children's social competence. This exploratory case study utilized interviews, field notes, and observations to gain insights into children’s experiences in a canine-assisted SEL program. Children (N = 8, 5-11 years) from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs participated in a six-week canine-assisted SEL program within the context of the University of British Columbia’s Building Academic Retention through K9s program. Participants were interviewed and queried on their confidence, social skills, and the role of the therapy dogs in facilitating social-emotional development. Using conventional content analysis, salient themes reflecting participants’ experiences were identified. These themes were corroborated by volunteer observations and researcher field notes. A within-case analysis revealed what each participant reported as meaningful to him/her followed by a cross-case analysis in order to identify what participants as a whole reported as meaningful. The most salient themes to emerge through cross-case analysis were: 1) the dogs were meaningful; 2) it was a positive experience; 3) there were opportunities for connection and socialization; 4) overall, participants did not develop an understanding of the term confidence; 5) most participants experienced nerves or shyness; 6) participants reported social-emotional learnings or evidence thereof; and 7) the therapy dogs provided behavioural and emotional support. Findings suggested that integrating therapy dogs into SEL can provide unique advantages and, at the very least, improve children’s moods and engagement. Future studies are still needed to gain a deeper understanding of the role therapy dogs play in promoting children’s SEL.
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