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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Active Reading: Mem Fox Shows How and Why

One of TRC's favorite authors, Mem Fox, has written over 30 children's books and five nonfiction books for adults.  Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is a fabulous read-aloud choice. Her nonfiction book for adults, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever shares TRC's read-aloud approach (do it as often as possible!) and her website is full of suggestions and how-tos for reading aloud. 

On the website, you can hear Mem read aloud from a section from her book titled "And do it like this."

"Reading aloud," Mem says, "is not quite enough -- we need to read aloud well."

Research shows that children need to hear 1,000 stories read aloud before they can learn to read themselves. Mem's philosophy is that for a child to sit still long enough to hear 1,000 stories, what they're hearing needs to be good! Just reading isn't enough; you need to read actively. 

What is active reading? For Mem, it means being aware of your expression, your body position and make eye contact with your audience. Make faces, change your tone and the speed of your reading. Hear her elaborate on active reading here.

When Mem reads, she emphasizes the music of the human voice. Change your pitch, go up and down. Whisper and shout! Speed up and slow down with the story. Make it exciting! 

Other than putting your audience to sleep, the most important thing to avoid is being patronizing. Mem cautions: "We have to make a conscious decision never to talk down to children."

To hear the rest from a professional reader, go to Mem's website and listen for yourself. She reads to adults from Reading Magic the way children should be read to -- like she's having a great time. 

Another great part of Mem's website is her ten read-aloud commandments. Not all can be applied to our Read-Alouds, but here are some that can:
  • Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

  • Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners.

  • Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.

  • Look for rhyme, rhythm or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.

  • Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work, it’s always a fabulous game.

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Report Feature: Pizza Party!

What could be better than pizza? 

The kids at a recent Carpenter’s Shelter Read-Aloud could not contain their exuberance when they found out they were going to make their own pizzas and get to eat them!  

The kids were set up with English muffins, pizza sauce and toppings (including lots of cheese!). They assembled their own personal pizzas with a little help from volunteers. There is nothing better than a delicious snack made just the way you like it!

English muffins (split)
Pizza sauce
Mozzarella cheese

Put the pizzas in a toaster oven set to broil. Have someone keep an eye on them so the cheese doesn't burn!

While the pizzas were toasting, volunteers read the following books about pizza:

The Little Red Hen by Philemon Sturges
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane
Dragon Pizzeria by Mary Morgan

The kids at Carpenter's especially loved Dragon Pizzeria. They loved it when all the adult readers got involved with voices for all the charaters. When the adults are into the story, the kids will get in to it too!

While you're sitting with the kids eating pizza, start a conversation about the books or even just about food.  Ask the kids to name their favorite kind of pizza, and then ask what they'd like to put on it next time. You'll all have a great time -- it's not hard to keep a roomful of kids excited about pizza!

Here's to a creative and delicious Read-Aloud idea!

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting the Stage for a Book

What you do before you begin reading is just as important to a Read-Aloud as the book itself. Setting the stage for whatever book you're going to read is a critical part of a Read-Aloud, and for a young reader it can make the difference between a good time and a depressingly school-like experience. One of the immediate goals of a Read-Aloud is for the kids to enjoy themselves. For that to happen, they need to feel comfortable and get excited about the story. 

This is another reason that it's important to be familiar with the book you're going to read. What is the setting of the book? What decisions do the characters face? What are some themes that young readers might relate to? Here are some techniques for setting the stage and getting kids involved before the first page is turned.

Set the stage, literally.
ARHA volunteers set the scene for an ocean themed
Read-Aloud with a fishing game and beach visors.
At a Read-Aloud at ARHA last summer, one team announced that the theme of the day was going to be the beach and then emptied a bag full of brightly colored towels on to the floor! The kids had a blast choosing towels and spreading them out on the floor to sit on. They even put on sunscreen!

Doing something special to get prepared for a story goes a long way toward putting kids in a story-time mood, and sitting on a beach towel while listening to a story about the beach gives them something to relate to. The technique of saying, "We're going to read a story about the beach, so we'd better get ready to go to the beach!" creates a sense of anticipation for the story.

This technique can be recreated for many different themes, and you can take it as far as you want to.

Ask questions.
"Have any of you ever been to the beach?" "What's your favorite thing to do there?" "Do you like to swim?" "What happens when a wave hits you?" "What kind of food do you eat at the beach?"  Asking the kids questions not only gets them involved intellectually and makes them feel valued, but also leads them directly into the story.

Don't be afraid to talk about the subject before the story has even started--a good book makes it easy to strike up conversation! It'll get the kids thinking about the topic and their natural curiosity will lead them to listen as you read about it.  Getting the kids thinking about the Read-Aloud topic before you start reading will also increase their understanding of the story.  It's called "activating background knowledge" and it is a key part of reading comprehension.

Introduce the activities before you start the story.
If your theme is baking and you're planning on decorating cupcakes after the story, say that at the beginning: "How many of you like cupcakes? Well, we're going to hear a story about a boy who makes the most beautiful cupcakes and then we're going to decorate some ourselves!"

All of these techniques are about getting kids engaged with the theme. Everyone is more likely to listen to material they're interested in, and having something to look forward to will help young readers get excited and engaged. For kids who are unfamiliar with or apathetic toward reading, knowing there are interesting stories out there and learning that reading isn't something that you only do in school will make them feel more positive toward books and reading in general. So: set the stage, get in the mood, and have a great time reading!

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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