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, December 14, 2015

Activities for multi-age Read-Alouds

When trying to keep kids of a variety of ages engaged at your Read-Aloud, the books you choose play a major role, but so do the activities you include. Planning activities that meet the developmental needs of all the kids at your Read-Aloud, while not requiring extra work, can make all the difference. 

Here are some ideas for activities to intrigue and delight all the kids at your Read-Aloud.

Open-ended crafts

If you like to do crafts with the kids at your Read-Aloud, plan simple open-ended ones that allow each kid to create her own product that's as simple or as complex as she wishes.

For example, a Read-Aloud about butterflies could include coffee filter butterflies. Each child gets a coffee filter and a pipe cleaner to make the butterfly. Using markers, the child can decorate the filter any way she likes. 

The kids can make dinosaurs, robots or anything else with pipe cleaners, clay or found objects like recyclables or rocks and sticks. Try a Google search for your theme and the materials you'd like to use: "found object robot craft for kids" for instructions.

Tracing the outline of his body on a big piece of paper and then handing over the markers is a perfect springboard for kids to create their own drawing for a Read-Aloud about autobiographies, the human body, super heroes, Halloween costumes or winter (and getting dressed to go outside). It can also become a self-portrait. 

The humble toilet paper tube is an excellent vehicle for open-ended crafts. A blog post from January 2015 chronicles different Read-Alouds that use toilet paper or paper towel tubes for crafts and activities that delight young and old. 

Get moving!

While little kids may need, developmentally, to move around more than bigger kids, incorporating movement in your Read-Aloud will be popular with kids of all ages. Keep in mind that they’ve probably been sitting still all day at school and would welcome the opportunity to move around.

Include movement in any Read-Aloud, regardless of theme, by encouraging kids to act out the stories being read or playing charades based on words or characters from the books you’ve read. Singing theme-related songs with movements or finger plays help the little ones get the wiggles out. Including an energizer or two during your session can help channel energy and engage kids who learn best by moving. Stretching or yoga at the beginning or during a Read-Aloud can relax and center the kids.

Another way to get the kids moving is to choose a Read-Aloud theme that is, by its very nature, active. Try a Read-Aloud about soccer, running, dance, teamwork or ninjas. Even a Read-Aloud about cooking or painting get hands and brains working. 

Appeal to the senses

Everyone, regardless of age, experiences the world through her senses. When you include sensory experiences in your Read-Aloud, you create the opportunity for each kid to have a concrete, physical encounter with the theme. As you are planning your Read-Aloud, think about ways you can include a sensory experience. Here are some examples.

A rain forest Read-Aloud could include a tray of common rain forest food products for kids to see and smell.

A beach Read-Aloud could have sand, shells, beach towels and balls for the kids to see and touch, seaweed to taste and sunscreen to smell.

A cooking or baking Read-Aloud could have ingredients for kids to see, smell and touch, cooking tools to see and touch and cooked or baked items for tasting. 

Real-world experiences

Reading comprehension correlates strongly to background knowledge. Kids build background knowledge by having experiences that build vocabulary and understanding of new ideas and situations. Yet, many at-risk kids lack opportunities to experience the wide variety of opportunities that are common for their more affluent peers. Playing an instrument or going to the beach may be experiences TRC kids have never had.

Providing real-world experiences at your Read-Aloud allows kids to a learn about a new concept in an authentic, hands-on way. Here are three examples of Read-Alouds where volunteers re-created real-world experiences.

Camping: set up a tent and bring in backpacks, flashlights and hiking boots. Make s’mores and shadow puppets.

Running and races: set up a short course outside, make bib numbers for every kid, warm up and then go for a run. The kids can decorate medals at the end.

Air travel: set up chairs or carpet squares like a plane, distribute boarding passes, go through security, find seats and hear the safety briefing (TRC promises). Then provide in-flight entertainment (read aloud) and refreshments, exit plane and retrieve bag (choose a book).

TRC has books and materials for each of these real-world Read-Alouds that you can use.

Activities to use with good multi-age books

Finally, here are some flexible activities that work well with the kinds of books -- wordless and interactive books, poetry, and fairy and folk tales -- that we explored in our last blog post about multi-age Read-Alouds.

Wordless books naturally lead into playing charades, encouraging the kids to take turns telling what is happening in the pictures or making flip books or pictures.

To extend an interactive book you could use a touch bag for kids to experience different textures, make lift-the-flap books, encourage the kids to act out the stories or choose their course in a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Poetry lends itself to open-ended activities that work in multi-age groups.

Write short, simple poems together, such as acrostic poems, limericks or haiku.
Play rhyming games.
Teach little kids rhyming songs and finger plays.
For older kids, adapt poems or songs they know with new words.

Activities that work well with fairy and folk tales include the following:

Read different versions of the same fairy or folk tale and have the kids vote on their favorite.
After reading some fairy or folk tales, have the kids break into groups and act them out.
Older kids could make their own fractured fairy tales or folk tales (new, zany versions that are adapted from the original).
Many of the stories are repetitive or depend on sequence for their structure. Encourage the kids to make or use sequence cards you provide to retell the story. Search online for free sequence cards for the story of your choice or encourage kids to draw their own.

For more information, here are links to related blog posts and Reading Road Maps:

Movement and Energizers
More movement for more focus 7/15/2013
Moved by books 4/20/2015
Get moving! 5/29/2012
Get up and dance 2/3/2014
Use yoga to help kids focus at Read-Alouds 11/25/2013

Reading Road Maps
Summer Read-Aloud outlines 6/23/2014 (cooking, wordless books, rain forests, soccer, running and racing)

Read-Aloud planning advice from the experts – TRC volunteers 10/18/2011 (teamwork, cooking, soccer, wordless books, world records)

Air travel

When you include flexible activities that encourage creativity, incorporate movement, appeal to the senses or relate to real-world experiences, you meet the developmental needs of all the kids at your Read-Aloud and allow them to experience how fun reading can be.

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book strategies and planning tips for a multi-age Read-Aloud

Our most recent volunteer seminar tackled the often-asked question, “How can I keep everyone engaged when I have kids from a wide range of ages at my Read-Aloud?”

Meeting the needs and interests of all the kids at your Read-Aloud can be tricky, especially when you have a group ranging from tots to tweens. Careful planning, including choosing the right books, is critical to success.  Here are some tips and strategies to try with age-diverse groups.

Pick Read-Aloud topics that have wide age appeal 

Broader themes tend to work better because you have a wider range of books to choose from and because you can find an aspect of the theme that will appeal to young and old. For example, monsters, dinosaurs, music, wordless books or universal experiences (like birthdays or going to school) work well.

Not as good are very specific themes, like Christopher Columbus (or another specific famous person), unless you can find great books for all ages. Teddy bears isn’t as good a theme as bears in general because an older kid is less likely to be interested in teddy bears, but might like grizzly, polar or koala bears. (Yes, I know a koala isn’t actually a bear, but that could be an interesting discussion at your Read-Aloud.)

Don't expect all the kids at any Read-Aloud to want to, or be able to, listen to the same books. You may find one or two that will work well for the whole group, but be prepared with a variety of books that will appeal to different age groups and interests. That being said, there are a few genres of books that have the flexibility to be used with a variety of ages.

Wordless books and interactive books

Wordless books work well with a wide age range because they are highly visual. “Read” the pictures with the kids to create the story. You can add as much “text” as is appropriate for your listeners. Unspoken is a book about a young girl's experience with a mysterious person hiding in her corn crib that can lead to a conversation about secrets, hospitality, courage or the Underground Railroad, depending on the interests and sophistication of the audience.

Interactive books are books that have some feature that engages the kids beyond a regular picture book, either by encouraging movement, touch, verbal or mental interaction, or with their graphic design.  Books with flaps, textures, sounds or pop-ups are interactive books, as are search-and-find books, like Where's Waldo, or books where you get to choose the course of the story, like Choose Your Own Adventure books. Press Here is a simple picture book where the reader seemingly makes the illustrations change by following directions.


Poetry works well with a cross-section of ages because much of it relies on rhyme and meter and it is quick and fun. Some poems are very short, some are silly and some are serious, making it easy to find different poems to suit the various kids at your group. Try song lyrics in a poetry Read-Aloud, too.

Shel Silverstein is a favorite for all ages. His funny poems capture everyday experiences with rhymes to please the little ones, word play for the elementary school-aged set and wit (and sometimes a little edge) for the tweens and teens in your group.

Fairy and folk tales

Fairy and folk tales work well with different ages because they come from an oral tradition. Their basic familiar structure, often including repetition, naturally allows you to tell the story in a simple way or a more elaborate way, depending on the sophistication of the listener. For generations, storytellers have embellished or streamlined the same stories to fit the occasion and their listening audience. Thankfully, many picture book authors and illustrators have done the same thing, creating many versions of the same basic story.

Many kids are familiar with some fairy or folk tales, so the stories engage their background knowledge and allow them to make up their own versions or retellings. Fractured fairy tales -- unusual twists on the original story -- are great fun with older kids who appreciate how they differ from the original. Many cultures have versions of the some basic tales adapted for their traditions, allowing for a multicultural angle.

A word of caution: Be sure to read all the versions you choose all the way through BEFORE you take them to the Read-Aloud. They may contain twists or content that you don’t want to bring up.

For more information, here are some links to related blog posts and Reading Road Maps:

Rhyme time! 3/31/2014

Wordless books

By choosing Read-Aloud themes and books that are well suited to multi-age groups, you'll be well on your way to a fun and story-filled experience for everyone. Our next blog post will explore activities that include movement or encourage creativity that work especially well with a variety of ages.

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