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, July 29, 2013

Illusion and Imagination Create a Magical Read-Aloud Session

Volunteers on Team Three at ARHA recently put together a captivating Read-Aloud session about magic. Team Three piqued the kids' interest from the get-go when Read-Aloud volunteer Kevin produced his imaginary dog "Cupcake" on her invisible dog leash. You can imagine the excitement.

Kevin, who is a professional dog trainer by day, had answers to all of the kids' questions about Cupcake. To carry out the illusion, Kevin said that Cupcake needed a nap and put her in the crate (a prop he had brought along) when it was time to begin reading.

To get the kids thinking about magic tricks, Kevin had a brown paper bag and asked the kids to throw imaginary balls into it. When the kids threw their balls, Kevin made the motion of catching them in the bag and snapped his fingers on the back side of the bag to the make the sound of the ball hitting the bottom. The effect was so realistic that even the volunteers had to ask how it worked.

For the large group Read-Aloud, Ellen read Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. This book explores a simple optical illusion. If you look at the drawing one way you see a duck and if you look at it another way you see a rabbit. It was a great introduction to optical illusions, and the simple text and engaging illustrations kept the children interested. Volunteers talked with the kids about how many magic tricks use optical illusions.

After the large group Read-Aloud, the group watched a YouTube video featuring Steve Frayne. This video contains three tricks: he walks on water, puts a cell phone into a glass bottle and walks through glass. The team showed the kids the bottle trick and the walking through glass trick. All the kids (and the grown-ups) were amazed and unable to answer the inevitable question of "how did he do that!"

For small group reading, the volunteers read some of these books:
The Magic Rabbit by Richard Watson
For the activity, the kids learned how to do the imaginary ball in a paper bag trick. They were excited to learn how the trick worked after watching Kevin do it at the beginning of the Read-Aloud. To make this trick work, all the kids had to do was to fold down the top of the paper bag to keep it open and work on their finger-snapping and acting skills. With some practice, all the kids were able to succeed at the trick and could not wait to show it off at home.

The real trick to having a successful Read-Aloud about magic is to keep it as simple as possible. Easy props such as a magician's hat, cape or wand would also be great additions, even if you don't have an invisible dog!

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

More Movement for More Focus

How can you get kids to settle down when they're full of energy? Strange as it may seem, you'll often find that more movement creates focus.  

Using group movement to enable kids to focus on a book can work wonders. And, you'll feel a lot better about your management skills doing that instead of engaging in a lot of shushing.  

In "Go Bananas," everybody moves his or her body in unison while reciting a fun rhyme. All the kids have to pay attention, concentrate and think to "go bananas" together. After having "gone bananas" as a group, the kids will be ready to sit and listen. Check out the video of TRC kids ages 4 to 7 going bananas.  

How to "Go Bananas"

  • “Bananas, unite!” (Extend arms extended over head.)
  • “Go bananas, go, go bananas!" Repeat.  (Peel arms down repeatedly.)
  • “Peel to the left, peel to the right, peel down the middle!” (Peel left arm down, right arm down and left arm in the middle.)
  • “And chomp, take a bite, chomp, chomp, take a  bite!” (Scissor arms like an alligator each time you say "chomp.")

Yoga for Kids

For different groups or on other days, you might need a quieter option. Why not try yoga? Have the kids take five or six deep breaths, stretching their hands high on the inhale and rounding their hands back to "heart center" during the exhale. That kind of movement works wonders in calming down a group of kids. For more kid-friendly yoga moves, here are some poses that elicit group movement and concentration: 
  • Use these yoga warm-ups to imitate things kids are familiar with such as a tree and a pea.  
  • Finish with a seated position so kids are ready to listen to a story right after finishing.

More Ideas

For more ideas, check out previous entries from the TRC Training Hub on movement and songs and finger plays.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

More Summer Read-Alouds

Sounds too good to be true. Reading research has demonstrated that having fun doing new things makes you a better reader. Really. Going to the zoo, having a picnic, learning to swim or ride a bike, going to the county fair — they all make you a better reader. 

Everyone is talking about summer learning loss these days, but summertime can also allow for new life experiences and vocabulary that translate into learning gains. Long days and no school can mean more time for adventure and exploration. Summertime provides many kids with the opportunity to have new experiences, building their bank of knowledge and vocabulary, which, in turn, can strengthen their reading comprehension.

At The Reading Connection, we try to build on kids’ personal experiences, and provide some new ones, to build both motivation for reading and reading comprehension skills. Here are four more Read-Aloud outlines about common summer experiences for you to try with the kids at your site or in your life. 

Carnivals, fairs and amusement parks Read-Aloud
What do you think of when you hear “county fair” or “amusement park?” Thrilling rides? Sticky foods? Games of chance? How about crowds, bright lights and giant vegetables? Explore this summertime phenomenon at your Read-Aloud with books about roller coasters, fairs and contests, and then play some games of chance, learn about centripetal force or judge a contest.

Picnic Read-Aloud
Eating outside is fun. And risky. Do your Read-Aloud picnic-style, with a blanket and snacks. Outdoors, weather permitting. The books explore the ups and downs of picnicking and the activities bring picnics, and the books, to life.

Summer sports Read-Aloud
Do you remember learning to swim, ride a bike or play baseball? Read about all kinds of summer sports and then PLAY for a super sporty Read-Aloud!

Zoo and Aquarium Read-Aloud
Kids love wild animals. Explore the world of zoos or aquariums (the animals, the people who work there, and the visitors) at your Read-Aloud session. Learn about specific animals or endangered species. Then let the kids try their hands at feeding the animals or making their own aquarium.

Whether you are creating an experience for a child for the first time, or reinforcing an adventure they’ve had this summer, these summer Read-Alouds will be sure to please the kids and boost their knowledge at the same time.

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

Author Profile: Mo Willems

“Always think of your audience, never think for your audience.”

This week, we’re featuring an author who has been called a master of children’s literature: the brilliant, award-winning Mo Willems. Since receiving a Caldecott Medal Honor in 2004 for his now-classic picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Willems has written and illustrated over 40 books for children. 


His books are deceptively simple, as if any parent could have made them, but there is more than meets the eye behind the illustrations that Willems uses. They express the story clearly and allow the reader to focus more closely on the text. Instead of imitating life, he uses his illustrations to help create joy and magic in his stories.
Although his books appear to be written for a very young reader, he has said that he doesn’t write for a certain age because he wants to have as large an audience as possible. His clever humor and the way he writes about emotions like jealousy, sadness and joy make it easy for readers of any age to connect to his books, and parents especially will be able to relate. The tactics that the sly Pigeon uses to try to convince the reader to let him drive the bus, stay up late or get a puppy are strikingly familiar to anyone who has tried to bargain with a child.
The work of Willems could easily become a theme for a Read-Aloud. While his most famous picture book characters are Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny, he also created an extensive series of early readers focused around the relationship between Elephant and Piggie. These books can spark discussions about different situations and can help children learn to be more empathetic. There are also a number of craft and activity ideas to go along with these books that could be used at a Read-Aloud. 

At a recent Read-Aloud, a WMATA bus driver read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! to the children. The Pigeon books lend themselves to interaction, as the Pigeon speaks directly to the reader and asks to drive the bus. He tries to persuade the reader by saying he'll be their best friend or even give them five dollars if they let him drive the bus. The kids love to shout out “NOOOO!” when asked if they would let the Pigeon drive the bus!

Regardless of age, any reader will enjoy the vast array books by Mo Willems.

This post was written by The Reading Connection's intern Margaret Fogarty.

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