TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Monday, November 28, 2011

Read-Alouds with parents

Parents at Read-Alouds?  You bet! 

At The Reading Connection, we're all about helping families create home environments that support reading. Doing that in a long-lasting way means helping parents get their kids excited about books.

Does it change the dynamic of the volunteer-led Read-Aloud when parents are there? Of course it does. But it is all worth it to have  more people in a kid's life having fun with books. 

Volunteers from Alive! House in Alexandria, where parents attend every Read-Aloud, tell us that the kids like having their parents there. The kids are usually better behaved and they love showing their crafts to their mothers.

So if parents drop in to your Read-Aloud (or if your site requires their participation), try these strategies to engage them:

Be welcoming and encouraging!  Introduce yourself to the parent and find out who her children are. Share your experiences with her kids and ask about her kids' interests and feelings about reading. Give her a sneak preview of the night's theme and activity.

Invite them to participate.  Grown-ups like having fun too. And parents are great at modeling how to listen to a story and how to chime in with rhymes and repetition. When you break into smaller groups to read, invite a parent to join your small group. They may also enjoy helping with the activity or listening as their child chooses a book to keep.

Model book-sharing and conversation about books.  Some parents may never have seen how their child reacts to a book being read aloud. Some may not be familiar with talking about a book with a child while reading it. Watching you and a child have fun with books can build a parent's confidence to try it herself. 

Use the Promises and stay positive.  If kids need to be refocused during a Read-Aloud, and you are feeling self-conscious about guiding a child whose parent is attending, remember your TRC Promises. The kids know that at a Read-Aloud everyone agrees to "Listen, Respect, Cooperate and Have Fun." Ask for, and model, the behavior you want to see from the child.

Meet parents where they are.  Remember that you are a guest in their home. Some parents may be more engaged than others, and that's just fine. Remember that while most of the families we serve are under an enormous amount of stress, TRC moms and dads, like all parents, want their kids to learn and have fun. 

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hard times generation: Homeless kids

This story from the TV show "60 Minutes," Hard times generation: Homeless kids, gives a kid's perspective on the experience of being homeless. It was recognized by the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth with a President's Award for Outstanding Media Representation of Homeless Education.

The experiences our kids have prior to getting into a shelter and how they feel about what their families are going through are likely to be very similar to those of the kids profiled in this video.

Watch the video below and think about how the kids you work with might be feeling on a night you come to read with them.

You might want to check out the extras too. There are some interesting insights.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey

Tired of this picture?

In Gracias The Thanksgiving Turkey, Joy Cowley puts a spin on a holiday story that will engage children who have had it up to here with pilgrims!

This brightly colored children's tale follows the story of Miguel, a young Puerto Rican boy living in New York City. Miguel is thrilled to receive a present from his father, a truck driver who spends his days on the road.

"Fatten this turkey for Thanksgiving," the note from Miguel's father reads. "I’ll be home to share it with you. Love from Papá."

Conflict ensues when Miguel befriends Gracias the turkey, whom he then hesitates to eat. Problems range from where the turkey will sleep 
in a tiny New York apartment, to whether or not the turkey can come to Mass. I won't spoil the ending, but kids will love Miguel's struggle over Gracias -- as well as his reunion with his father.

Gracias is characterized by bright pictures and colors, and a multi-cultural dimension makes this story unique in a way that is missing from many more traditional Thanksgiving stories.

For activities to go along with this book, consider the tried-and-true hand turkey: have the kids trace their hands on construction paper and cut out the tracings. Have them give the turkeys names, like Miguel did with Gracias. Talk about pets that they might have or have had, and how to take care of them.

For ideas of other Thanksgiving-related activities, check out this website.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Using Children's Magazines

Fed up with fiction? Some young readers are hungry for facts on their favorite topics—and that kind of curiosity should never go unattended! Nothing lends itself to a Read-Aloud like a kid who’s eager to learn more about a topic. Sometimes it can be hard to find a nonfiction book that’s not too dry, so don’t be afraid to turn to other media.

Kids' magazines provide great, concise reading material: they’re full of short articles, activities, and brightly-colored pictures. National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated KidsTime for Kids, Click and Dig are just a few of the excellent kids' magazines being published.

Ranger Rick is a good example of a magazine designed for knowledge-hungry kids. It is a monthly children's magazine published by the National Wildlife Federation and narrated by this guy:
The magazine explores different topics about the animal kingdom and great outdoors. It can be great for introducing readers to new topics or exploring ones they already know a little bit about. The design is especially good for short attention spans! Big print, diagrams, and easy-to-read maps characterize the articles, and some of them are tailor-made to adult/kid reading pairs. Consider the article “In search of seashells” from the September 2011 issue.

The article provides activity ideas for kids on a seashell hunt: playing games with the shells, creating art projects, telling stories, and even classifying them using simple classification tools explained in the article. ("'Uni' means one, 'bi' means two" an illustrated girl explains.) All of the activities they describe can easily be turned into a Read-Aloud with a handful of seashells and some other books about the beach and sea animals. Even better, the article is short enough to keep even the most fidgety reader's interest.

For a kid interested in wild animals, Ranger Rick offers plenty of pictures of wide-toothed sharks and true stories about silly animal antics. If a kid is having trouble engaging in the Read-Aloud, stories about monkeys being chased through the streets by policemen in India might just do the trick! After you've gotten your reader's attention, why not keep it by following up with a Curious George story or a non-fiction book about monkeys?

Children's magazines can serve as a great segue into a new subject or as a way to mix things up if they're getting dull. Consider checking them out next time you're at the library if you know you have a particularly bouncy kid.

More activities can be found at the National Wildlife Federation's Ranger Rick website.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Be prepared to read

We've said it again and again — be sure to read your books before coming to a Read-Aloud. Here are a few reasons why it's important to read ahead, along with some strategies to help your team prepare.

Why should you read the books ahead of time?
  • Know what's in the books: There's nothing worse than reading a book to a group of interested kids and turning the page to find a topic that you don't want to broach. For example, some books about pirates discuss human trafficking. This is probably not a topic you planned on bringing up during your fun pirate Read-Aloud. If you still want to use a book with less desirable parts, paper clip together the pages you'd like to skip so the kids don't notice and be sure to alert your teammates.
  • Get tips from the author: Many picture books are written with the express purpose of being read aloud. The authors include keys to readers such as text in all caps or italics to indicate that these words should be read loud or in a special voice.   These hints can also indicate an action like "BOOM, BOOM, BOOM" to indicate stomping or "SNIFF! SNIFF! SNIFF!" for sniffing from The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. Reading through the story in advance allows you to find these special parts and know how to read them aloud. 
  • Find hidden treasures:  Reading through the books in advance lets you examine the illustrations and overall design. Look for details or patterns in the pictures to spark the kids' interest. Some design features, such as page breaks, support getting the kids to predict what will happen next.  When a sentence leaves you hanging as you turn the page, pause and let the kids predict.
  • Link activities to the books:  In Harry Potter Mr. Olivander says, "The wand chooses the wizard." At Read-Alouds, sometimes the book chooses the activity! When you read a book in advance, you allow it to drop the activity into your hands. For example, if you read How I Became a Pirate by David Shannon, make a treasure map like the character Jeremy Jacob does. This will allow the kids make a concrete connection between what's in the book and the real world.

What is the best way for your team to be prepared?
  • One team at ALIVE! House recommends that everyone on the team bring some books on the theme to the Read-Aloud. This way, each person is familiar with the books he/she brought and is prepared to read them to the group. This also facilitates small group reading by providing more books to use.
  • A volunteer at ARHA who usually brings the books for her team solves this problem by reading the books in advance and then putting sticky notes inside the books for other readers to reference. Her teammates arrive to the Read-Aloud a few minutes early, flip through the books and read the notes so they are prepared to read to the group.

Does your team have other ideas?  Share them in the comments below.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.