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, June 25, 2012

We Are Readers goes for the gold!

There's one big thing on everybody's mind this summer: the Olympics! The 2012 Summer Olympics, held in London, will start on July 27, 2012 and the whole world is going to get worked up over their favorite events. TRC has gotten in the spirit by making the Olympics the theme of this year's summer reading program, We Are Readers.

Phelps' book, published in 2009,
is full of impressive facts about
his impressive deeds: for example,
the total of 60,000 meters that
he swam in training for the Games!
From kid-targeted memoirs by Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps to the history of the ancient Greek games to learning more about favorite sports, the topic of the Olympics takes the energy surrounding the games and transforms it into reading fun.  

Our Olympic themed Read-Aloud at ARHA Ruby Tucker Center, which was the final one of three Read-Alouds in our kick-off week, will be repeated twice more at our other summer reading sites--but the Olympics don't start until July 27th and this theme could be reused at other sites before or during the Games!

Olympics! is a great intro to the
Games, giving an overview of the
structure and philosophy-
the emphasis is on teamwork
and good sportsmanship!
Our Read-Aloud
We opened our Read-Aloud by talking about the Olympics and discussing what events are held and where it will take place this year. Then we got the reading started with B.G. Hennessy's Olympics!, a picture book with limited text that explains Olympic traditions and history. After the story, and a little time to read more Olympics and sports themed books in smaller groups, we truly gave We Are Readers a kick-off by holding our own opening ceremonies!

The running of the Olympic torch is such a beautiful tradition and even more fun when you bring it to life. We introduced the kids to the idea and then represented it with a relay race with a "torch" of our own. Here's how we made it--it's a simple craft involving a 20 oz drink bottle wrapped in aluminum foil and a little bit of red, yellow and orange construction paper. Our relay was non-competitive. 

A runner in our torch relay
After the relay, we continued our opening ceremony by lighting the Olympic torch in our Read-Aloud stadium. Our Read-Aloud tracker this summer takes the form of a giant Olympic torch poster, and everybody gets to add a flame with his or her name on it for every ten minutes he or she reads for fun, all summer! We paraded our readers around the room, each holding a mini American flag (printed out and stapled to a straw) as the Olympic theme played. The march ended at the torch tracker, where one-by-one our readers taped up their first ten-minute flame before moving on to the give-away book box. 

Make it Yours
Adding flames to
the tracker torch
We made our torch in advance, but here's another, even easier version of a torch if you're interested in having kids at your Read-Aloud make their own as a craft! Other Olympic themed crafts could include making olive branch crowns, origami Olympic rings or making a medal tracker.

The Olympics theme could also easily be taken as an opportunity to do a Read-Aloud about other countries and cultures. Talk about geography and show a map, and name athletes from other nations. Have kids design their own flags with markers and construction paper, popsicle sticks and a little bit of tape. Have them make up a story about their country and what sports they're really good at. What events would each kid love to participate in, if they could pick? Use the Olympics as a starting point and plan a Read-Aloud that will best engage the kids at your site.

Book Suggestions
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
Babar’s Celestville Games by Laurent de Brunhoff
Books about various sports or ancient Greece

To read about the other Read-Alouds in We Are Readers' kick-off week, visit the Summer Reading sidebar of our Arlington Kids Read page.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Start With a Book offers a world of opportunities

With summer vacation around the corner and children promising to be as curious and eager to explore as ever (both in and out of Read-Alouds!) by Reading Rockets presents a fantastic way to pair books and activities for any size group.  Not only could these pre-packaged Read-Alouds be used by volunteers in TRC's programs, but they were designed specifically for parents to use with their children at home so you can use them with your kids and friends at home too.

The main feature of, which is aimed at children ages three to nine, is a library of themes from art to weather, all of which come with pre-planned reading and activities. The five steps to discovering the theme with a child (or children!) are listed:

Art and Artists
Choose books and book-related activities
For each theme, Start With a Book provides a list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, with links to where you can purchase them--though you could also  head over to the nearest public library to get it started. 

Bugs, Birds and Animals

Explore more hands-on activities 
Family Literacy Bags on every theme are available for download.  Every Bag includes three activities: a Creativity activity (a hands-on craft project), an Imagination activity (with writing, drawing or creative play) and a Get Real Activity that emphasizes how to draw real-world experiences and useful information from the books you've read.  A page of bookmarks suggesting even more titles makes it easy for kids who get passionate about a topic to continue exploring it at the library.
Builders and Building

Try some summer writing
Encourage kids with vivid imaginations who are taken with a particular story to write their own! has an archive of kids' writing prompts that you can use to get started--but make sure that imaginations are running wild!

Detectives and Explorers
Dig deeper and play
Reading Rockets has provided links to more resources that kids and parents can use together.  On its homepage, Start With a Book has a list of games and apps related to the themes in its library--so kids can see how the subjects they're reading about are related to the rest of the world. 

The focus of Start With a Book is to keep minds active over the summer, and to do it through books.  Be sure to use it as a resource in the coming months--and recommend it to parents who are struggling to keep children occupied during a long summer.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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

Monday, June 11, 2012

Getting kids to think outside of the box

A recent conversation with TRC board member Jim Egenrieder got me thinking about how TRC includes books about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in our programs.  Jim is, among other things, a STEM education specialist for Arlington County Public Schools in Virginia. He helped me realize that I’d been too limited in the way I thought about the relationship between STEM education and books.

Exploring the states of matter
At TRC, we’re all about creating regular and passionate readers.  That means giving kids the books they want to read.  In many cases, that means nonfiction.  Kids love exploring the whys and hows of the world, and we’re happy to supply them with lots of nonfiction books at Read-Alouds, and in the mail through our Book Club.  We even provide explanations of how certain Book Club books build math and science skills in addition to reading skills in the tips we send out with packages.  We plan special Read-Alouds about math and science, sometimes with special guests, and feature exciting books all about these topics.

During my visit with Jim, he defined what STEM means and then we talked about ways books can foster that kind of learning. 

• Science is answering questions with observation and isolating variables.
• Technology is any purposeful modification of the natural world.
• Engineering is solving problems using a design process.  And,
• Math is the relationship between things real or imagined, based on logic and often quantified with numbers.

His explanation of the goals of STEM education made me realize that books not only can teach math and science vocabulary and concepts, they also do much more.

At the very core of STEM learning and proficiency are curiosity and imagination.  A sense of wonder and possibility lead to exploration.  Imagination and creativity are essential for problem solving.  And most relevant to our Read-Aloud, kids love stories about exploring mysterious things and solving problems.

When we share books with kids that spark their imaginations and encourage them to think creatively, we help create the future Marie Curies, Albert Einsteins, Charles Drews and Bill Gates of our world.  I’m talking about picture books like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub or novels like Harry Potter, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Calder Game.  All of these books feature kids solving problems in a creative way.

Or books like It Looked Like Spilt Milk and (the sadly out-of-print) Bored--Nothing to Do!, Press Here, Not a Box or books David Wiesner and Chris Van Allsburg.  These books challenge a child to look at the world with in a different way and to apply their own imagination to the stories. 

Here's a new TRC favorite: Not a Box!

Encouraging kids to use their imaginations and think creatively builds the skills our kids need.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer tells the story of just such a boy, who imagined a solution to his community’s drought and built a windmill out of parts he finds in a junkyard.  Yes, it fits Jim’s definition of engineering and maybe even technology, but at the heart of the story are William’s curiosity and creativity.

At TRC, we’ll continue to provide books about fact and fiction for the kids we serve, to build their passion for reading and their imaginations.  And here at the TRC Training Hub, we’ll also include posts every few months exploring the relationship between STEM education and reading.  In the meantime, read a book that gets you to think outside the box!

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Use it or lose it! Tackling summer reading loss

Summer is officially here. We've had our Memorial Day cookouts and the temperature and humidity are ramping up. Kids are getting excited about school getting out and educators across the country are worried about how much kids' abilities will deteriorate over the summer.

Summer reading loss is a real and cumulative problem.   
Available research indicates that the reading achievement of poor children, as a group, typically declines during the summer vacation period, while the reading achievement of children from more economically advantaged families holds steady or increases modestly.            
(Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, Phi Delta Kappan, September, 2003.)

Moreover, researchers have found that these losses are cumulative over time. So if two kids are at the same reading level at the beginning of second grade, by the time they reach the end of sixth grade, the poor child can be nearly three years behind. Studies show that there is little or no difference between the children’s achievement while school is in session. It is what happens over the summer that sets poor kids back.  

This video from Education Nation demonstrates the contrast between the summer experiences of underprivileged children versus those of their more affluent peers:

What factors cause this phenomenon? Poor kids face a triple threat over the summer in relation to their more affluent peers. They experience the following: 

Lack of access to books.
Poor kids have fewer books in their homes and less access to public libraries than middle-- and upper -- income kids. If you don't have any books, you can't practice your reading skills.

Lack of encouragement and motivation to read during the summer.
Poor kids are less likely to be involved in programs sponsored by libraries, book stores and communities that encourage and reward reading for fun over the summer. If reading isn't fun, kids are less likely to do it on their own.

Lack of resources and opportunities to build background knowledge. 
Poor kids' families have fewer resources to send their kids to summer camps or enrichment programs or to take family outings and trips than more affluent kids. 

Why do real-world experiences matter?
Real-world experiences build both vocabulary and background knowledge. These two factors influence reading comprehension. The more background knowledge a child has, the better he will understand what he's read, even if his vocabulary is inadequate.

Summer reading programs have been trying to address the first two problems for years, with varying success. Some schools send books home with kids over the summer to provide book access. Libraries and bookstores conduct summer reading programs and challenges to motivate kids to read.

TRC's We Are Readers summer reading initiative works to address all three. 

Access to books:  We continue our Read-Aloud program during the summer with all of our partner agencies, including the weekly opportunity for kids to choose books to keep. We also continue our Book Club program, which provides children's books to families through the mail.

Motivation:  At our participating We Are Readers sites, we create a bulletin board system to track how much kids read for fun, and each site sets aside time every day for the kids to read whatever they want to (or be read to).  This year our theme is the Olympics, so kids will be adding flames to a torch for every ten minutes they read for fun. We also provide prizes for site staff to give kids when they catch kids reading for fun. Seeing the torch get bigger and accumulating prizes motivates the kids to read, read, read.

Real-world experiences:  TRC makes real-world experiences central to the We Are Readers program. We make the participating sites' summer events calendars and children's programming plans available to our volunteers so that they can plan Read-Alouds that correlate to the kids' experiences. For example, if a site takes the kids to Great Falls, TRC volunteers might do a Read-Aloud about hiking and camping. TRC also brings in special guests and creates opportunities for the kids to have new experiences, such as preparing the kinds of foods a visiting zookeeper feeds the pandas at the National Zoo.

What can you do to make this summer one with learning gains instead of losses?

Participate in a local reading program through your public library, bookstore or The Reading Connection. In one week in May, 123 kids read for 15,000 minutes in the Arlington Kids Read Read-A-Thon. Keep the momentum going by joining TRC's We Are Readers summer initiative through the Arlington Kids Read website. We'll post our Olympics theme tracking materials as well as outlines from some of our favorite summer time Read-Alouds for you to use with young readers starting at the end of June.

Make sure the kids in your life have lots of books available to them. Visit the library, swap books with friends and search your shelves for old favorites that have been buried behind more recent titles. Include newspapers and magazines in what you offer kids during the summer. Check out Reading Rockets' summer reading list for ideas.

Use great resources like James Patterson's ReadKiddoRead website. He provides easy steps to make reading the thing to do this summer as well as a great list of books. Reading Rockets also has a handy guide to make sure your kids have fun reading this summer.  Finally, Reading Rockets has created a new summer reading program called Start With a Book.

Finally, try something new with your kids this summer. Teach them to garden, cook or fix a bike. Explore your neighborhood or visit a museum. Listen to a new kind of music together. Gather family stories from your elders. Every new experience builds vocabulary and background knowledge, improving comprehension. And the more you understand what you are reading, the more fun it is to read!

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