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, May 28, 2013

What do you know?

Years ago, I tutored a 4th grader in Washington, DC. DeShawn was still struggling with reading on her own, but she loved hearing books read aloud and having conversations about everything. We’d work on homework together and spend time reading aloud.

One evening, she chose a book about the solar system. The book dedicated a double-page spread to each planet and when we got to the end, DeShawn looked up at me and said, “Is that all the planets? What about the third world? I keep hearing about the third world on the TV.”

I was so proud of her question. She’d thought she’d known where to look for an answer—in a book about planets. When she didn’t find it, she was comfortable questioning what we’d read.

Lots of kids won’t ask questions. But to develop knowledge and build critical thinking skills, kids have to know how to ask questions and be able to communicate what they are thinking and understanding. Support them by:

• Modeling conversation skills and by asking good open-ended questions
• Reflecting on your own personal experiences and connections to information and text
• Sharing your own knowledge and asking kids related questions about their experiences
• Giving kids time to think before asking questions or answering yours
• Listening carefully and thoughtfully to what they have to ask and say

Listening carefully to DeShawn’s question about where to find the third world, I knew an answer of “in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America” was not going to be helpful to her. A globe, an atlas, and several magazine and newspaper articles later, DeShawn was satisfied. And so was I. Her one question had turned into deeper knowledge of the world and got us exploring texts we’d never considered before.

Reading and listening to informational text can definitely help kids develop knowledge of the world, which in turn, will help strengthen their comprehension skills. What DeShawn and I learned is that while informational text is a type of nonfiction, it can be found in lots of places besides nonfiction books. Newspapers, magazines, brochures, and websites have interesting informational reading that answers questions kids are curious about and helps prepare them for life.

You can bet that if something is in the news, kids have heard about it, but often have little understanding. Some issues may not be appropriate for you to discuss with kids that aren’t your own, but knowing that those questions are out there, you can help them start building the knowledge they need to ask their questions and understand the answers.

Guest blog post by TRC Advisory Council member and Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Encouraging creativity

Creativity is an essential quality for children to have. It urges them to ask questions and learn about things they've never heard about. It pushes them to problem solve when put in an unfamiliar situation. It was the gem behind the creation of inventive devices and thought processes that make our lives easier and more interesting.  

There have been many articles published recently about the importance of creativity and how to foster it, both in adults and in children.  For adults, the Wall Street Journal suggests that one of the most important keys is to step back from the issue and daydream. Your mind just have the ability to find a solution or an invention on it's own, but thinking about it too hard may inhibit that ability.  For kids, the BBC reminds us how imaginative kids can be when given the time. Allowing them to be bored or to have unstructured time gives them the chance to invent imaginary worlds to act out, write or draw.

Sometimes we need a spark to get our brains thinking outside of our everyday boxes. Prompts can come in any form, even a picture. One of the great things about art is that even the youngest kids at Read-Alouds can be successful, they don't need to be able to read or write yet. 

Give kids a clipping of a picture, such as a part of an animal or a piece of a building or something that relates to your theme. Bring multiple options so each child has their own starting point. Glue or print it onto a page in a random location. Then ask each child to complete the picture in their own way. Their creative wheels will start turning with all of the directions they can take their art. 

Ask each child to share the story behind their picture. You'll be impressed of how much they've thought through their scene. If they struggle, ask what season it is, why the animal or person is there, where are his friends and any other question to prompt the child to explore the scene.

If kids want to continue to expand on their scene, ask them to write the story of their scene. Who knows, it could be the start of a great storytelling experience. 

For other ideas of open-ended crafts check out this recent post. The inspiration and artwork from this post comes from ArtMommie.

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

Expanding vocabulary

The achievement gap between at-risk youth and advantaged youth usually begins even before children arrive at school. It often starts with a child's vocabulary. We are only able to comprehend and discuss concepts and issues for which we know the associated vocabulary. So, it is essential for kids to learn lots of new words all the time.

One of the best ways to learn new vocabulary is through reading. Picture books contain a lexicon at a much higher level than what a child can read on his or her own. For example, the picture book In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming contains the text "waddle, wade geese parade" and "minnows scatter." A seven-year-old might not know exactly what minnows are or what waddle means, but she will be able to decipher their meanings from the images and the context. However, this deduction probably won't happen unless a discussion about the words is prompted by an adult.

Children usually skip over unknown words when reading, so when helping kids learn new vocabulary, take just a moment to point out a new word and then return to the flow of the story. Provide a short, kid-friendly definition and show how it relates to the picture (if possible). A short definition ensures the children understand the text and will hold their interest. Focus on words that are common in adult speech so the kids hear the words again. Hearing a new word one time won't make it stick, but repetition will. Encourage the children to name similar words or connect the new word to what they already know. For example, after reading about geese waddling in In the Small, Small Pond, ask the children what other animals waddle.

Show the kids how to use the pictures to their advantage while reading. This will go a long way in helping them when they have to read in later grades. Explain that looking at pictures is not cheating, but it's what they're there for.

For more strategies about improving kids' vocabulary while reading, check out Reading Rockets.

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

Monday, May 6, 2013

My First Day

Many animals give birth in the spring. As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, spring is the perfect time to use Read-Alouds to present the idea that spring is the season for animal babies to be born. 

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (husband and wife in real life) explore animals' first days in their book, My First Day. This book examines a wide variety of animals species and their first hours of life. Some baby animals, such as the capybara, are able to swim and hunt within a few hours of birth. Others, such as the golden snub-nosed monkey, ride along with Mom on her daily adventures to stay safe and keep from getting lost. Kids will be fascinated by the ways moms identify their babies in a pack of what looks like identical animals. Zebras, bats and the California sea lions all have unique ways of finding their young.

Because the illustrations in Jenkins' books are so large, vibrant and detailed, the text isn't too long to read from beginning to end. Or, you can take a different approach by skipping pages and dwelling on only those that interest the kids. Amazon's "look inside" shows several of the book's pages, including the last three pages that provide more information about all of the animals featured in the book. This unobtrusive style of providing information makes fun facts easily accessible to kids of all ages.

More information about Jenkins and his books can be found at 

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