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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Celebrate Boys!

It's a tradition in Japan to fly carp banners representing the boys in your home leading up to May 5th, Boy's Day. The day commemorates a Japanese hero, Kintaro, who was said to be unusually strong as a child. (Think Paul Bunyon or John Henry.) 
Why not take this occasion to celebrate boys at your Read-Aloud? Boys often get short shrift when it comes to reading. There is less social support for boys than girls to read, and statistics show that boys are often more reluctant than girls to read and are more frequently diagnosed with reading disabilities.

Featuring books about boys, real or imaginary, at your Read-Aloud is fun and easy. And it gives boys a chance to find themselves in a book. 

Choose biographies of boys who grew up to be famous and encourage kids to imagine what they will do when they grow up.
  • The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull
  • The Herd Boy, about Nelson Mandela, by Niki Daly
  • Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars, by Mark Weston
  • Odd Boy Out:  Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown
  • Teddie:  The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt by Don Brown
  • Young Thomas Edison by Michael Dooling

Or, go the imaginary route.  Read some adventures or talk about what it's like to be a son, a brother and a boy.
  • The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis
  • Be Boy Buzz by Bell Hooks
  • The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say
  • Brothers of the Knight by Debbie Allen
  • Edwardo, the Horriblest Boy in the World by John Burningham
  • Harvey Moon, Museum Boy by Pat Cummings
  • I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
  • What Little Boys are Made Of by Robert Neubecker

Don't forget some classic boy stories!  Is being a boy now different from being a boy 15 or more years ago when these stories were published? 
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
  • Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
  • Jack and the Beanstalk by Steven Kellogg
  • No, David! by David Shannon
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

And for the older kids, how about our favorite boy characters like Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Greg (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Percy Jackson or Horrible Harry?  Try reading selections from the books and have the kids vote for the coolest character.  Encourage the kids to talk about what him a great character.

Reading is more fun when you can identify with the characters in the story.  Every so often it's a good idea to shine the spotlight on boys in books and encourage the forgotten reader.

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Children's Book-A-Day Almanac: A Great Tool for Planning Read-Alouds

You say you have a Read-Aloud next week (shall we say April 29?) and haven’t a clue what to do? 

Here’s a blog that can help solve your dilemma. Check out the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, written by children’s book expert Anita Silvey. Silvey, one of les grandes dames of children's book world, has worked for over 40 years in the field. She has been a publisher at Houghton Mifflin and a editor of The Horn Book, two renowned names in American publishing for children. 

She began the Childrens-Book-A-Day Almanac about two years ago. It contains one page for each of the 365 days in the year, each day’s posting featuring a children’s book of unimpeachable quality.

The featured book for April 29 is The Red-Eyed Tree Frog.  This is a perfect Read-Aloud anchor book, a short nonfiction selection with large, colorful photos of the red-eyed tree frog and its environment, for children ages 4 years to 7 years. Guess what?  You have a Read-Aloud theme: frogs, or perhaps the rainforest.  A quick check of a library website's catalog will supply many other books on frogs you can also take to your Read-Aloud -- the "Froggy" series by Jonathan London, Frog Went A-Courtin' retold by John Langstaff, Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel or Tuesday by David Wiesner. The Umbrella, by Jan Brett, would be a fantastic take-along, if your theme is the rainforest. 

But, let's say the book featured on the date of your Read-Aloud is just not right. Maybe it's geared for kids older than those at your Read-Aloud, or perhaps it just doesn't appeal to you. (If your Read-Aloud were on April 23, for example, you would find that the featured book is Shakespeare Stealer, a wonderful novel for 11-year-olds, but not useful to you as a Read-Aloud choice.) By clicking on the Tomorrow or Yesterday buttons at the top of the Almanac's screen, you can quickly scan lots of other days and lots of other book choices. While you’re flipping through the days, you’ll notice that Silvey often refers to special months or weeks. She tells us April is Gardening Month, National Poetry Month and Pets Are Wonderful Month. Within April are National Dance Week (April 20-29), Bat Appreciation Day (17) and Drop Everything and Read Day (12). Any one of those topics could spark your imagination and become the theme for your Read-Aloud. And you'll start with at least one book title, chosen with the benefit of Silvey's vast experience. 

Still haven't found the right theme? For even more ideas, take a look at the sidebar "A Few Other Events for . . . " that appears on each page. The sidebars are packed with date-related trivia, starting with people who were born on the date.  Of more Read-Aloud value are the other random events and celebrations listed, all of which are somehow related to the date under consideration. All of these can be mined for Read-Aloud ideas. The selections for April 29 include titles of several wonderful picture books about hair. They give you another set of options for your Read-Aloud, and you don't even need to mention that the musical "Hair" opened on April 29, 1968. 

The information in the "Children's Book-a-Day Almanac" blog is also available in book form.  The book is available at many libraries.

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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Giving great behavior a FAIR chance

It happens almost every week. The kid that always seems happy to come to the Read-Aloud  greeting the volunteers and other children and finding her name tag  creates a ruckus as soon a volunteer starts reading. She won’t sit down and enjoy the story with the group, she says all the books are stupid and refuses to read, even one-on-one. She bugs the other kids and volunteers while they are reading, and yet shoves her way to be first to do the activity or have a snack. 

You and the other volunteers ask her to stop being disruptive with no success. Sometimes you end up sending her home. Sometimes you find yourself cutting the reading portion short for everyone because she is so distracting.

As a TRC volunteer, you find this maddening. Everyone is miserable, including her. Scolding her doesn’t work. Bribing her doesn’t work. Ignoring her doesn’t work. Why is she acting this way?

TRC Read-Aloud volunteers often encounter a wide range of behaviors, some disruptive or inappropriate, and an article in the October 2012 edition of Educational Leadership, entitled “Cracking the Behavior Code,” provides some useful insights and strategies for understanding and responding to a child’s challenging behavior.  

The authors created an acronym for the steps involved in understanding and handling behaviors:  FAIR.

  • F is for understanding the function of the behavior. Why is the child behaving this way? What is she trying to achieve?
  • A is for accommodations. What can you change in the environment or processes that could prevent the behavior from happening?
  • I is for interaction strategies. How can you change your interactions (for example, how you give instructions) to minimize triggering unwanted behavior?
  • R is for response strategies. How you respond to a child can exacerbate, minimize or perpetuate the situation. The golden rule here is to avoid reinforcing the function or goal of the behavior.

The “F”

The authors explain that behavior is a form of communication and describe four possible functions of behavior:  
  1. To escape or avoid something,
  2. to obtain a tangible thing — an object or an agenda,
  3. to engage in a sensory activity — doing something because it feels, tastes, sounds or looks good and
  4. to get attention.
When a child disrupts or withdraws from a Read-Aloud, observe and ask yourself these questions: 

  • What was happening before the behavior took place? 
  • What is the behavior you are seeing?
  • What are the consequences of the behavior?

By thinking through the whole process (what triggered the behavior, what the behavior actually was and what the result of the behavior was) you may be able to figure out why a child is acting a certain way and become aware of how the setting, processes or even your own response to the behavior may be reinforcing the unwanted behavior.

In the case of our kid at the Read-Aloud, she becomes disruptive when the reading starts. She tries to get to the activity or snack as soon as possible and avoids interacting about the books at all. The end result is that sometimes she (and the other kids) get very little book experience, but does get to do the activity or have a snack. Books and the activity or snack seem to be triggers for her. 

Is she avoiding books and reading because they make her uncomfortable? Is she trying to control the flow of things and set her own agenda? Is she seeking out an activity that is more pleasurable to her than reading (like doing a craft or eating a snack)? Is she seeking attention? Maybe she’s doing all these things. How you’ve set up the Read-Aloud or how you respond to her may be reinforcing her behaviors.

The “A”

Once you determine the function or goal of the behavior, you can work to prevent it by creating some accommodations. These adaptations focus on eliminating triggers and building calming and self-regulating skills that are often underdeveloped.

As a TRC volunteer, you could feed everyone the snack first and read to the kids as they are eating. You could allow kids to draw while they are listening. You could build an activity into the reading time by alternating books and games. You could offer her books with high visual appeal — wordless books or books with outstanding illustrations — and encourage her to make up her own story with just the pictures. You could spend a Read-Aloud talking with the disruptive kid and getting to know her interests and then bring books on those topics with you, just for her, the next time you are there.

The more you can engage her positively, the less she may need to avoid reading or control the situation. And, if you can incorporate activities she finds pleasurable into the reading experience, she may eventually come to enjoy listening to and talking about books.

The “I”

We all need to feel liked, respected and safe. Interacting with kids in a nurturing way can build their relationship with you and their comfort level at the Read-Aloud. By having positive interactions with the kids, not only when they are behaving nicely, but just for who they are, you will build your relationship with them and broaden their experience with positive attention. The authors point out that many kids have learned the most predictable and efficient way to get attention from an adult is to act inappropriately. They may not have much experience with positive attention.

As a TRC volunteer, you can ask the child about her day or her week at the beginning of the session and listen carefully to her responses, providing her with positive attention from the get go. You could offer her the choice of helping a volunteer set up the activity while the other kids are reading and then talking about the Read-Aloud topic with her while you are working together.

By giving kids choices, you give them some control and show them you respect them. The authors also suggest using statements instead of commands. For example, you could say “We have five more minutes of reading and then we’ll do an activity,” instead of "You will read for five more minutes and then you'll do an activity," and also using humor. Avoiding a power struggle is key.

The “R”

The authors of the article use “R” for response, but it could also be for reflection. Taking time to reflect upon how you respond to difficult behavior and how your reactions might be reinforcing that behavior is key. By avoiding power struggles, triggers and reinforcing appropriate behavior, you help create an environment where the kids can thrive.

Giving kids a FAIR chance

Many of the children we work with are under extreme stress both at home and at school. They have little control over their lives, they may be fearful, anxious or depressed and they may have little experience with receiving positive attention from peers or elders and regulating their own behavior. It only makes sense that they might feel they need to avoid reading or interaction, to set the agenda, to seek out pleasurable sensory experiences or to get attention during a Read-Aloud.

In the case of our Read-Aloud kid example, if you always cut the reading short and move on to the activity, or send her home, she achieves her goal of avoiding experiences with books. If you can find a way to decrease her anxiety about reading and engage her, or replace her initial anxiety with a more pleasurable activity, like a snack, she may become more able to participate in more positive way.

By taking time to assess inappropriate behavior, you gain insight into the child’s deeper needs and what might be triggering the behavior. By adapting the structure of your Read-Aloud, the kinds of interactions you have with the kids and your own reactions to the situation, you can help kids develop coping strategies and enable them to enjoy books with you.

To read the whole article, which includes more great ideas and case studies of anxious, oppositional and withdrawn kids, click here.

“Cracking the Behavior Code” by Nancy Rappaport and Jessica MinahanEducational Leadership, October 2012.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

PBS Frontline on kids in poverty

Living in a homeless or domestic violence shelter is not an easy experience for a child, or for anyone. Your life is thrown into disarray. Things you used to take for granted become unknowns. Since the recession began, our nation has seen an uptick in formerly middle-income familieswho have lost jobs and ended up in shelters. The shelters TRC works with are helping families get back on their feet.

TRC also works with families living in affordable housing apartment complexes.  Affordable housing provides housing at a subsidized rate and accepts Housing Choice Vouchers so lower-income families can afford apartments for their families. Housing authorities must give 75 percent of all vouchers to families who earn no more than 30 percent of the area median income and the remainder to those who earn less than 50 percent of that figure. In Arlington County, as of 2012, 30 percent of the area median income for a family of four is $32,250.  

Life is not easy for kids whose families are in these economic straits. There is sometimes not enough money to pay bills; having enough money to buy special things -- like books -- or have fun experiences can be a distant dream. In 2012,  PBS Frontline profiled several impoverished children from different regions of the country and in situations ranging from rural to big city. The children featured in the video talk candidly about their experiences being hungry and their dread of moving back to a homeless shelter. 

Frontline's complete feature can be found here. To watch a shorter feature about Sera, an  11-year-old whose family loses its home, see below.   

Watch Sera's Story on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

For more information about Housing Choice Vouchers visit the Housing and Urban Development Fact Sheet and the Arlington County website.

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

STEM: A New Horizon

At last week's volunteer seminar, we asked volunteers for their reactions to Read-Alouds on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  Here are some of the things they had on their minds. 

  • It will feel too much like school.
  • Kids don't like science and math, so STEM topics won't hold the kids attention.
  • How can math be made interesting?
  • Is there any good fiction about math and science?
  • Many STEM subjects are very complicated and the kids won't understand or will ask questions I can't answer.
  • There's not enough time to do complex activities required for these themes. 
  • The activities are often messy or require equipment I don't have.
  • The kids at my site are too young to understand.
  • The age range at my site is too wide to be able to talk about science or math.

During the seminar, we explored these topics.  By the end of the evening, most volunteers said their reservations had dissipated. When you think of science and math in the form of rockets, robots, baking and color, what's not to likke? So bring them to life at your Read-Alouds!

Here are some tips on how to have fun with STEM at a Read-Aloud.

  • Pick aspects of STEM that are exciting. See the the list of ideas that the volunteers produced at the seminar.
  • Adapt activities to the age of the kids at your site. Do more of the preparations beforehand if you are working with younger kids. Searching the internet and books like Bite-Sized Science will help you find manageable activities.
  • Check out the Read-Aloud outlines posted last week for books and activities that work with kids as young as three- or four-years-old.
  • Bring a reference book about your topic to help answer questions that are sure to come up. The kids will like the challenge of finding their own answers.
  • Books by Greg Tang and Loreen Leedy for math and Steve Jenkins for science are a great place to start.
  • Check out TRC's STEM Resource List for more websites and books to check out.
  • A wealth of math books and activity supplies are available at TRC for you to use. Check out the complete Math Resource List here.
Good luck!  Let us know how your STEM endeavors turn out!!

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