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, September 24, 2012

How to Talk with Kids

For volunteers, interacting with kids at Read-Alouds can be intimidating. Children are interested in different things than adults, their social skills aren't yet totally developed, they might not like the books or activities that are being shared with them, and it might prompt them to act out. Furthermore, the kids at TRC Read-Alouds can be even more difficult to interact with since children in unstable family situations--the very demographic TRC works with--can be particularly fidgety, distracted, and hard to engage. But kids are just people, and they want to be treated respectfully and taken seriously. This blog entry will present some ideas on how to connect with kids in conversation, earn their respect and trust, and help engage them in the Read-Aloud.

1. Before the Read-Aloud, engage children in conversation to make them feel welcome.

It's true that you may have different interests, conversational styles and backgrounds than the children you're interacting with, and this might make conversation different--but can't those things be true of anybody? Volunteers should always arrive 15 minutes early for a Read-Aloud to get set up, and part of getting ready is to help make the kids feel welcome and excited. Do this by engaging a child in conversation the way you'd engage an adult who arrived to participate in a meeting or a workshop: ask how their day is going, what they've done that day, and then listen when they answer. Talk about what books they've read recently and if you've read something good, tell the kids about it (briefly). Welcome every child to the Read-Aloud individually, using his or her name.

2. Be aware of the child/adult power dynamic--because you can be sure that the kids are!

Children don't need to be treated like a bomb that could go off at any minute or a wild animal that needs to be lured into sitting still to listen to a storybook! Take care to treat every child as your equal—ask questions that you might ask to a friend and respond to their stories the way you would reply to anyone. Don't dumb down a conversation because you're talking to a 7 year old, just be aware of what conversation topics will interest and engage them.

3. Maintain a respectful disposition towards children who are acting out.

Of course there are times when kids are acting out or talking during a story or distracting their peers, and in those instances it is appropriate for a volunteer to exercise power as an authority figure. If this happens, be sure that in your response you remain calm and gracious. One easy way to do this is to cite the TRC promises that you reviewed at the beginning of your Read-Aloud. Many kids at Read-Alouds are familiar with the language of TRC's promises.

To the child who is talking out during the story, say, "We all promised to respect and listen to one another. Can you be respectful while I am reading?"

To the child who is distracting another child by talking to or physically bothering him or her, say, "I really need your cooperation if we're going to all have fun at the Read-Aloud."

If a child really can't cooperate, respect and listen at a Read-Aloud, have a volunteer pull him or her aside and say, "I really enjoy having you at Read-Alouds and I would hate for you to have to leave. But if you're not ready to be at the Read-Aloud right now, then it's time for you to go home and I'll have to see you next time. Do you think you are ready to be part of our Read-Aloud?"

The key is to emphasize that while certain behaviors are not welcome at Read-Alouds, all children are.

4. Remember that you also promised to Listen, Respect, Cooperate and Have Fun!

It's hard to blame a kid for acting out towards an adult who treats him or her like, well, a kid. Nobody likes to be condescended to or patronized (even by someone the same age as their parent!) As a Read-Aloud volunteer, it's your job to:

Listen to what the children are saying about the books and activities. If they say they don't like one or are bored, ask what kinds of things they would rather read about and what kinds of activities they'd rather do--and then listen to their answers!

Respect their contributions. Just because a kid's story is long and rambling and seems to make no sense, bear with him or her--you might be one of the only people who does. If a child has a problem that seems unimportant--a scab, or trouble sitting still--remember times that you had something distracting you from work or whatever you needed to be doing, and do what you can within reason to help the child solve his or her problem.

Cooperate. If a kid wants to take home a give-away book that is too advanced, reach a compromise: sit him or her down and read the first few pages out loud before letting the child take it home! If a kid's approach to a craft isn't what you had in mind but isn't disruptive or problematic, why not just let him or her go in whatever direction inspiration takes?

Have fun! Don't let kids stress you out! Do your best as a volunteer to listen to, respect and cooperate with the kids at your Read-Aloud, and you will probably do great! Children are sometimes less guarded and more genuine than grown-ups, which should make them easier to talk to.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Arlington Kids Read Fall Community Reading Festival

The Reading Connection, in conjunction with Arlington Magazine, would like to invite all Arlington families to the Fall Community Reading Festival on Saturday, September 29, 2012 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, VA.

The Fall Reading Festival celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, with bilingual read-alouds of folktales, book-related crafts, and delicious snacks. 
Arlington Kids Logo

Storytellers and VIPs will entertain children with Latin-American folktales in English and Spanish. Special guests include

• Virginia Delegate Alfonso Lopez
• Arlington County Board Member Walter Tejada
• Arlington County Library’s Desiree Fairooz
• Maria Elena Giraldo Greene from Hola Baby!

The goal of Arlington Kids Read is to promote reading for Arlington kids and families and to raise funds to support TRC's ongoing reading programs for at-risk kids.

If you're interested in bringing the kids in your life to the festival, you can RSVP at Feel free to pass this information on to friends and family. Flyers for the event can be found in English and Spanish. For more information about the Arlington Kids Read Campaign, check out the website at  
We're looking for TRC volunteers to help as craft coordinators and to assist with set up and registration for this event.  If you're interested in volunteering, please contact Stephanie Berman.

What: Community Reading Festival
When: Saturday, September 29, 2012 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Patrick Henry Elementary School, 701 S. Highland Street, Arlington, VA  22204
Why:  Join us for a lively afternoon of fun, crafts and stories!

Transportation information:  ART 77 and Metrobus 10B and 16 serve the nearby intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike.  Parking is available at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Books about books

When getting kids into the habit of reading and loving books, few themes are better than books themselves. There are a variety of books about books, that can get kids excited about reading. Some feature kids who dislike books and reading, others explore the variety of characters and themes explored in books and others talk about reading in libraries and at home.

Here's a list of some of our favorites:

Books for kids from birth to age three
¡Libro! Book! by Kristine O'Connell George 
Read to your Bunny by Rosemary Wells

Books for kids aged two to five
Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow
Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr
Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn

Books for kids aged four and up
I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra
The Bored Book by David Michael Slater
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
It's a Book by Lane Smith

Nonfiction titles for kids aged six and up
How a Book is Made by Aliki
What do Illustrators Do? by Eileen Christelow
The Art of Making Comic Books by Michael Morgan Pellowski

Once you've read a few stories about books, let the kids have a shot at it themselves! This website has tons of ideas for making different types by hand. The YouTube tutorials are especially helpful.

Start a discussion about how books have evolved over the years from oral storytellings to clay tablets, parchment and then eventually to the present day book and e-books. Touch on issues such as portability, durability, cost and amount of information that can be handled. 

A more extensive list of picture books about books and libraries can be found here and here.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Get in on the ground floor: early literacy development at your Read-Aloud

Reading research demonstrates that literacy learning starts at birth. Crucial components of reading skills are built long before a child starts school, mostly by adults talking with young children, reading to them and providing them with lots of experiences.

Fortunately, very young children are champs at absorbing these important concepts and skills they’ll need later on. They just need a grown-up to show them. If I child doesn’t learn these concepts and skills before school starts, he’s going to be playing catch-up for a while. And even as kids are catching their stride as independent readers, practicing these early literacy skills strengthens their abilities. 

Here are the cornerstones of early literacy development and some ways to incorporate them into your Read-Aloud or a reading experience with a child in your life. 


Understanding what you read requires a large vocabulary, lots of experiences in the world and the abilities to both predict what will happen next and to connect what you are reading with your life experiences. 

Every new word a child learns and every experience a child has are money in the bank that he can draw on to help him understand as he reads or listens to a new text. The bigger the vocabulary and the more life experiences, the bigger the “account” from which to draw. 

To develop comprehension skills at your Read-Aloud, choose books with unusual words and take the time to talk with the kids about what those words mean. Choose books with a repetitive or predictable structure and pause while you are reading to let the kids practice predicting what will happen next. 
Some books, such as Who Hops? by Katie Davis, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jr. and many books by Jan Brett include hints and questions to help kids guess what will come next. Encourage the kids to make connections between the book and their own experiences. Model these skills by saying things like “I wonder what that word means.” or “Gee—what will happen next. Maybe…” or “Oh, this reminds me of the time when I …”

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness means being aware that letters have sounds associated with them and words are a combination of those sounds. Children’s books are the perfect tools for helping kids become aware of letter and word sounds because so many of them have great rhyme, alliteration and rhythm. 

Rhyme and alliteration help kids learn about the sounds that letters make. Rhythm helps kids recognize words, syllables and the sounds they make. Nursery rhymes are also a great way to teach these skills since they include rhyme and often incorporate hand motions that illustrate the text.
"Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they are four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they are eight."  -- Mem Fox, Reading Magic.

Why? Because nursery rhymes have great rhyme, rhythm and alliteration.

To build phonological awareness at your Read-Aloud, choose books with rhyme, rhythm and alliteration (words all starting with the same sound.) Encourage the kids to finish rhymes when you pause, clap out rhythms and name other words that rhyme or start with the same sound.  Try pairing a book with an associated nursery rhyme. Teach younger kids the words and help them sing along.

Alphabetic Principle

Letters are just symbols. They are shapes that have sounds associated with them. Developing this concept requires helping kids recognize letters, name them and learn the sounds that are associated with them.
Read ABC books and books with alliteration with the kids. Encourage the kids to point out letters they recognize and to make the different sounds letters make. A recent story on NPR tells of a study that found that asking kids to identify letters on a page in a story helped their reading skills even several years later.

Concepts about print

Simply put, it’s understanding how books work. Any book will do. 

Help the child identify parts of the book (cover, spine, title page, author and illustrator), orient the books for reading (right side up), understand the direction of text (in English, we read left to right) and distinguish words from pictures. 

Reading research has identified the four concepts above as the cornerstones of early literacy development.  I’d add one more:  delight in books and reading.  Developing positive feelings about books and reading are also essential to becoming a life-long reader. So be sure to keep your Read-Alouds fun. You’ll be helping create readers from the bottom up!

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