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, April 25, 2016

Guess who's coming to our Read-Aloud: Having special guests at your Read-Aloud

This post is the second in a series that began with a post on March 8, 2016, called Guess who's coming to our Read-Aloud: Finding special guests. In that blog post, we discussed how to choose, invite, inform your colleagues, etc. In this follow up, we cover planning the Read-Aloud to take advantage of this special event. 

Reading time

Having a special guest at your Read-Aloud will likely change the usual session structure. Your guest might converse with the kids longer than is typical. The activity may also take more time than usual, or you might not have time for an activity at all. These changes will affect the amount of time you'll be able to devote to reading.  
 Even if you're unsure of how much time you'll read, be sure to bring books related to the theme. It's important for the kids to see books related to the special guest's theme, because this encourages the kids to explore the subject through books if they are interested. 

If the Read-Aloud is dominated by conversation between the guest and the kids, that's completely appropriate. Building literacy entails expanding background knowledge and vocabulary. By hearing new subject area vocabulary and learning about a new topic, kids are building their background knowledge and vocabulary so they will be better positioned to enjoy reading and learning in the future.

To summarize, prepare as usual by bringing a few books that will work to read to the whole group, as well as some that would work in small groups, but don't be distressed if less reading than usual takes place.

Activity time

Sometimes, simply interacting with the guest will be your activity. Or, a hands-on activity may be the best way to let the kids experience the guest's subject. Think carefully about what kind of activity would work best with your guest. 

Activities should be interactive so they bring the subject to life. For example, when Becky, a zookeeper from the National Zoo, came to Greentree Shelter, she brought bamboo for the kids to touch. Then the kids prepared foods that the animals eat (and they could eat too!). This hands-on activity got kids engaged in thinking about the lives of animals and the work zookeepers do.

Even if your plan for the activity is for the kids to interact with the guest, bring a simple back-up activity. You never know how long a guest will speak or if an unexpected turn of events (like firefighters having to leave because of an emergency call) will cut that interaction short. 

Including your team members

Although one or two volunteers may take the lead in scheduling the guest, planning and orchestrating the Read-Aloud, all of the volunteers can help keep the kids focused and engaged. All team members should be encouraged to help with the following: 
  • Look for books related to the theme,
  • Brainstorm short additional activities to be used if the special guest and main activity don't use as much time as expected.
  • Take photos, if allowed at your site. Send them on to TRC and to the special guest. 

Thanking the special guest

Send a thank you to your guest for coming to the Read-Aloud. In the past, we have had guests come back time and again because they had a such a great experience. Fostering a positive experience for the guest and showing our appreciation can increase the likelihood that he would be willing to come back again or to visit another site. If you were able to snap a picture with the guest and the children, or of the children engaged during the Read-Aloud, send it along with a thank-you letter to the guest. Also, at your next Read-Aloud, ask the kids sign a group thank-you card. (If you do this and wait a month, send a note from you and your fellow volunteers right away.)

Read-Aloud report

When completing your Read-Aloud report, be sure to describe how the guest interacted with the kids, what kind of activity you did, how the kids reacted and which books worked wellThis will help other volunteers who might want to do a Read-Aloud on that theme, with or without a guest.

If the guest was a big hit, call or email Stephanie about her! If the guest is interested, TRC may try to coordinate another visit.

Bringing a special guest to your Read-Aloud can open up a whole world of experiences and excitement for the kids you serve. And volunteers often enjoy the visit as much as the kids.

This post was written by Rachel Fishman, TRC's AmeriCorps VISTA. 

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kids at heart: Celebrating Beverly Cleary at 100

"Where are the books about kids like us?"

That’s what the young patrons at the public library in Yakima, Washington asked fledgling librarian Beverly Bunn in 1939. Beverly, who had asked that question herself as a child, remembers longing for the same thing. Where are the funny stories about average boys and girls just knocking around the neighborhood? 

This question stuck with the young librarian, whom you might know as Beverly Cleary, the beloved creator of characters like Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona Quimby. 

Blog post author, Rachael Walker, with Ramona
Like the kids we were and many of the kids we know now, Cleary’s characters put their curiosity to work and exercise their imaginations — and then have to deal with the consequences. Often, her young characters’ good (or at least reasonable) intentions don’t turn out as expected and there are misunderstandings, especially when the adults involved see honest mistakes as silly, naughty or exasperating. 

Beverly Cleary’s books are great fun to read aloud. Each chapter can stand on its own as a funny story. These tales of everyday kids are sure to stimulate lots of laughter and knowing looks when shared with young readers.  

You’ll probably be laughing too, but what about those knowing looks? Do you see Ramona as lively and feisty or annoying and challenging? Do you have appreciation for the honesty of someone who takes one bite out of each and every apple because “the first bite tastes best"? Can you empathize with Ramona, who explains, "Because when I ask, you don't let me do things," when questioned as to why she didn’t ask if she could have a party?

Do you remember what it felt like to be smaller than everyone else?  Many grown ups really do forget what it's like to be a kid. Through Ramona, Beverly Cleary reminds us of how we wanted to be treated when we were kids.

Wanting to help.
Remember being anxious about your parents’ well-being and what you could do to get your father to be healthy and quit smoking? (Ramona and Her Father)

Wanting to learn.
Remember asking important questions, like how did Mike Mulligan use the bathroom when digging the basement of the town hall? (Ramona the Pest)

Wanting to have input. 
Remember when, as a littler person, you sometimes had to be a bit noisier and a bit more stubborn in order to be noticed? (Ramona the Pest)

Wanting to choose. 
Why shouldn’t you wear rabbit ears to the library and get to pick out your own book? (Beezus and Ramona)

Often the responsibilities of adulthood have us romanticizing our own childhoods and get us thinking that children's lives are generally idyllic and carefree. But kids in crisis are dealing with lots of problems — in addition to all the issues and worries involved in growing up. Be sure to have some appreciation for that and for kids being kids.

As Beverly Cleary turns 100 years old on April 12, make some time to read about Ramona’s antics. Enjoy her high energy and spirit! As you read and think about why someone would want to put jelly on her mashed potatoes, turn a worm into an engagement ring or bake a doll into a cake, remember: she’s just a kid.

Guest blog post by Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Repurpose, reuse, recycle: Earth Day Read-Aloud activity ideas

In honor of Earth Day, April 22nd, here's a bonus blog post with ideas to help you plan a Read-Aloud that repurposes materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill for your activity.

Here are some ideas for activities using often-discarded items.

Bubble wrap lends itself to all kinds of crafts and games. Check out these websites for ideas to use bubble wrap to paint, sculpt, print and create animals, bugs or clouds -- all great Earth Day topics.

You can also use bubble wrap for a hoppin' poppin' dance party. That's right: put bubble wrap on the floor, turn on some music and dance! Read some books about music, dancing or noise and get dancing! The kids will love the satisfying snap the bubble wrap makes at they cut the rug.

TRC has lots of bubble wrap on hand at the office for you. Just call or email Stephanie for your supply.

Empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls can morph in to all kinds of cool stuff. Here's a TRC blog post with lots of ideas

For an ecology oriented Read-Aloud using tubes, find your favorite version of Jack and the Beanstalk or read Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert and then grow some seeds in a tube.

TRC has lots of TP tubes on hand at the office. Just call or email Stephanie for your supply.

Who doesn't have a drawer full of old t-shirts? With nothing but a pair of scissors, you can transform old t-shirts into tote bags. To go along with the project, read Max's Dragon Shirt by Rosemary Wells or other favorite books about clothes.  

While we're talking about bags, read a book about plastic or other non-biodegradable trash, like Eric Carle's 10 Little Rubber Ducks. Talk about why stores are trying to cut back on use of plastic bags, and then help each kid make his own reusable tote bag.

Cardboard boxes are full of creative potential. If you receive lots of boxes in the mail or have recently moved, you have all the boxes you need. Bring different sized boxes and encourage kids to make their own sculptures or city scapes, or try some of these ideas. Read books about architecture, sculpture or imagination, and let the building begin.

Galimoto tells the story of a boy who creates a toy from found objects. Your team could collect various items (wire, string, bottle caps, empty cans, plastic bottles, paperboard boxes, sticks, leaves, shells), supplement them with craft supplies at your site and encourage your kids to create toys of their own.

For ideas for books about the environment and ecology, check out these lists from PBS and A Mighty Girl.  This site also has a list devoted to children's books appropriate for Earth Day. Feel free to call TRC's office or enlist your local children's librarian to help you find just the right books.

Whether you do a Read-Aloud specifically about ecology or just use recyclable materials for your craft or activity, let the kids know that you purposefully chose an activity that repurposed materials and take time to brainstorm with them other ways to care for the planet. 

Happy Earth Day!

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