How four-legged friends are helping children cope with school stress

Elf the shih-tzu, at Sandringham Church of England Primary Academy

Elf the shih-tzu, at Sandringham Church of England Primary Academy - Credit: DNEAT

Schoolchildren across the county are being helped to keep stress at bay by four-legged classroom assistants.

Across several of the region's schools, therapy dogs are being utilised to help youngsters manage anxiety and concentrate better.

Elf the dog, who visits children at Sandringham CofE Primary Academy

Elf the dog, who visits children at Sandringham CofE Primary Academy - Credit: DNEAT

From helping children cheer up when they are upset to acting as reading buddies, several Norfolk schools have spoken of the benefits of having a hound patrol the corridors.

At Sandringham Church of England Primary Academy, 11-year-old shih-tzu Elf has been part of school life for more than a decade.

Elf the dog at Sandringham CofE Primary Academy

Elf the dog at Sandringham CofE Primary Academy - Credit: DNEAT

A qualified therapy dog, Elf has been coming into the school since she was just five months old, accompanying her owner Keri Leftley, a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA) at the school.

Jane Gardener, headteacher at the school, said: "Elfie is gorgeous and such an asset - children just love to see her wandering around classes.

"It is fabulous having her in school, especially if children need a bit of support after something sad has happened. They love to sit with her, or read to her and she can really help settle children."

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One child said: "It is like she has a cloud of calm and happy feelings around her."

While Elf is one of the region's most experienced school pets, she is far from the only classroom canine having an impact in the county.

Lily the Cockapoo at Peterhouse Church of England Academy 

Lily the Cockapoo at Peterhouse Church of England Academy - Credit: DNEAT

Peterhouse Church of England Primary Academy in Gorleston is visited by a one-year-old cockapoo called Lily twice a week.

Ryan Freeman, executive headteacher at the school, said: "We have a high number of vulnerable children and Lily has proved to be a fantastic way to break down barriers.

"She has helped school refusers to get into the building, withdrawn children to smile and talk and helps calm children at times when they have become dysregulated."

Poppy the cockapoo at Whitefriars Primary Academy

Poppy the cockapoo at Whitefriars Primary Academy - Credit: Paul Tibbs

Elsewhere, three-year-old cockapoo Poppy has become a popular member of the school community at Whitefriars Church of England Primary Academy in King's Lynn, two-year-old golden retriever Riley has got tails wagging at Diss Primary Academy and The Bishop's Church of England Primary Academy in Thetford will soon be welcoming two-year-old rescue dog Dog onto the team.