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 17, 2012

The advantages of independent bookstores

Calling all last-minute shoppers! Feeling like it's getting too late to order online? Do yourself a huge favor and visit a local independent bookstore. You're in for an experience that far surpasses shopping for books at either a big-box store or on the online site who-shall-not-be-named.   

Families enjoy an event at Hooray For Books!
in Old Town Alexandria.

What do independent bookstores offer that you can't find using online book sources?  Or at chains?
  • A curated selection of books. Small stores have to prioritize, which means they select those books that, in their judgment, reflect the best and most saleable books. 
  • Knowledgable booksellers who are happy to give you a quick rundown of books they think you'll like. Tell them what you're looking for, you'll be astonished at their encyclopedic knowledge. And if nothing they suggest seems quite right, ask them again -- they love the challenge and understand the satisfaction of putting the right book in someone's hands.    
  • A relaxed atmosphere where people love to talk about books.  If you're there with kids, it's totally OK to let them sit or lie on the carpet and leaf through a selection of books.  In fact, join them on the floor and have an impromptu family read-aloud.  
  • Author appearances, where you can meet and talk to authors you admire. The children in your life can participate in story hours, meet authors and illustrators and participate in hands-on, high-quality book-related experiences.
Politics & Prose Bookstore invited students to
 hear Walter Dean Myers speak on the day he
became the National Ambassador for Children's Literature.
In addition to their role as gathering places for book-lovers and neighbors, local independent stores are good for your local economy. They return 68 cents of each dollar to the local economy. National chain stores return 43 cents, and online stores return 0 cents on the dollar to the local economy, according to the 3/50 Project, which advocates for local retail.  

Here are independent bookstores located around The Reading Connection's office in Arlington, Va.

Child's Play (Arlington, Va., Baltimore, Md., McLean, Va., Rockville, Md., Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md.)
Fairy Godmother, 319 7th Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
Hooray For Books! (Alexandria, Va.)
Kramerbooks & Afterwards (Washington, D.C.)
One More Page (Arlington, Va.)
Politics & Prose (Washington, D.C.)

To find the indie bookstores in your town, visit IndieBound.  

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

The power of imagination

We often hear it said that reading feeds the imagination. But the imagination also feeds reading. 

Being able to imagine what she is reading allows a reader to better understand the words she is reading. Experience (that builds background knowledge) and a healthy imagination work together to support reading comprehension.

An article by Doug Buehl for the Wisconsin Education Association Council explains how we use our imaginations to understand what we are reading and provides strategies to help kids develop their imaginations.

According to Buehl, kids need chances to practice creating mental images based on their senses. Here are some ideas (from Buehl and TRC) for beefing up imaginations.

  • Encourage kids to describe things they’ve seen or experienced. (What did you see at the zoo today? What did you do at the birthday party?) Remembering and describing objects and experiences can help a child learn to use descriptive words.
  • Pause when you are reading aloud to talk about what you are imagining as you read. Next, encourage the kids to tell you “what they see in their heads” when you read a passage. (Now the child is using descriptive words she gets from the story to create a new mental picture instead of using words to describe a memory or mental picture she already has.)
Grace acts out Anansi the Spider
  • Ask the kids to imagine themselves as an eyewitness, and to describe the story as if they were there. 
  • After reading a passage from a book, ask kids about their first impression of a character, an event or the setting. Ask them which words or phrases helped create that impression.

By helping kids strengthen their imaginations, we build their reading comprehension and, in turn, their motivation to read.  When you understand what you are reading, reading is more fun. 

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

Online Story Time

When an author reads his or her book aloud, he or she reads with the inflection and pronunciation intended. In the past, the only way to hear authors read their work was to attend a reading.  Now, technologyhas provided many possibilities.  

Barnes & Noble's Online Storytime features one story a month. The story is read by the author. The book's illustrations providing the online images. Instead of showing a full-page spread of the illustration, the camera zooms in on an item as it relates to the text the author is reading. This allows the child to focus on a particular portion of the image to best understand how it relates to the text. The image is always moving, usually zooming in or out, which appeals to kids' desire to watch a moving picture. The characters in the image do not move though, as the illustrations are exactly the same as the illustrations on the page of a book. It's a perfect combination of online technology and the picture book format.

Currently, there are 16 stories available on Barnes & Noble's Online Storytime. They range from classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to new favorites such as Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann.  This month's story is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.

A second example of this concept has been put together by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and called Storyline Online. At, famous actors read their favorite children's book in much the same fashion as Barnes & Noble's Online Storytime. You can watch Betty White read Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion or James Earl Jones read To be a Drum by Evelyn Coleman.  Storyline Online also offers related activities for each story as well as related books.

Both sites provide information about the author. Storyline Online also provides a short bio of the illustrator and the reader. Kids may feel an affinity with the author, now that they know a little something about him or her.

Watch a story for your own enjoyment, or spend some quality time with children showing them a new story or an old favorite read by the author or an actor.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cooking Together

'Tis the season for large meals with family and friends, so what better topic for a Read-Aloud than cooking as a group? Cooking together with family and friends is a great way for kids to learn how to work together while having fun at the same time! 

Bring in props such as measuring cups and spoons, a whisk and a spatula and talk about their uses. Show the kids several cookbooks and talk about their differences. Be sure to bring one that's made for kids with lots of pictures. The kids will learn important vocabulary and background knowledge they'll use for the rest of their lives. 

Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell
What does it takes to prepare a feast for 10 people? Follow this family from the supermarket to the table.

Eight Animals Bake a Cake by Susan Middleton Elya
In this bilingual story, several animals come together to bake a cake. What will they do when their cake is destroyed?

Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
In an adaptation of the folktale, "The Little Red Hen," Rooster and his friends figure out how to cook the most wonderful, magnificent strawberry shortcake.

Ugly Pie by Lisa Wheeler and Heather Solomon
Tired of pretty pies, 'Ol Bear embarks on a journey to find an ugly, yet tasty, pie.

Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells 
Max and his sister, Ruby, compete to see who will make the best cake for Grandma’s birthday.

Cooking Activities
Now that you've read about cooking, it’s time to give it a try. Creating one of these snacks to take what you've learned and put it into action.

Fruit Kabobs
Cut pieces of fresh fruit slide onto skewers to make colorful, healthy snacks. You will need wooden skewers or pieces of uncooked spaghetti and an assortment of fruit. 

Seedless Ggapes

If time is tight, pre-cut the fruit and have kids do the threading. If you know you'll have a little more time, let the kids help prepare the fruit. Kids can wash the fruit, peel bananas and pull grapes off the vines. Have an adult seed and peel melon and let the kids cut it into smaller pieces with kid-friendly cutlery. Kids can slice the bananas and cut the tops off off strawberries. 

Most of the fruit will slice easily with a plastic knife. Older kids can cut fruits with a regular knife, with supervision.

No Bake and Decorating Foods
All of the stories listed above feature cakes or pies. Bring in the ingredients to make a no-bake cake or pie, such as a peanut butter pie. Be aware that many no-bake cakes require an electric mixer.

To avoid all that measuring and mixing, but still offer the opportunity to interact with food, let the kids decorate their snack. You can bring any variation of the following items to decorate or assemble the kids' own creations.

  • Pre-baked cupcakes or cookies and frosting supplies
  • Flavored rice cakes (like Quaker brand) with cream cheese and fruit or frosting supplies
  • Pre-baked biscuits or store-bought shortcake shells, whipped cream and fruit
  • Individual graham cracker pie shells and filling options such as pudding or whipped cream and fruit

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Non-traditional Thanksgiving crafts

A Read-Aloud volunteer recounted that last year the kids whooped and hollered when they found out they weren't making hand-print turkeys as the craft at their Thanksgiving-themed Read-Aloud. Kids prepare for Thanksgiving at school and in other programming throughout the month of November, so chances are they've already done hand-print turkeys or that other classic craft you pull out every year. To help you mix things up a bit this year, we've provided several non-traditional Thanksgiving crafts.

Pilgrim hats:  Pilgrims often get overlooked in the realm of Thanksgiving crafts. This easy activity turns black cups into Pilgrim hats. They can also be turned into name cards by writing a person's name on the black circle. Kids may want to make one for everyone coming to their Thanksgiving meal.
Source: Origami Owls

Finger print turkeys:  Take the hand-print turkey in another direction by just using fingerprints. Offer several different colored ink pads to give the feathers variation. The instructions provide details on making front-facing and side-facing turkeys. Add some scenery around the turkey when it's all finished. 
Source: The Charmed Mom 

Pine cone crayon-holder turkeys:  Gather enough pine cones so that each child will have one. Transform the pine cone into a turkey by adding a face and feet using construction paper. The feet can be made by cutting out a heart and gluing it to the bottom of the pine cone. Tacky glue will probably work best for this project. The turkey's feathers are made by inserting crayons into the pine cone. Let the children choose their colors and let them take their turkey and crayons home.  
Source: Amanda's Parties to Go

Leaf turkeys Collect some fallen leaves and glue them to circles of cardstock to make the feathers. Cut circles out of two large leaves for the head and body. Add eyes and a beak and you've got a very natural turkey! 
Source: My Creative Stirrings

Paper plate turkey faces This is an easy craft for a young crowd. Kids can choose whichever colors suit them for the "feathers." The instructions say to use paint, but markers or crayons will work just as well. 
Source: Preschool Crafts for Kids

Pair any of these crafts with a great Thanksgiving book such as Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey.

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

TRC’s Four Programs

The Reading Connection (TRC) is composed of four programs, all based in literacy development. Studies show that children who grow up with books in their homes and are read to regularly are much more likely to succeed academically in the future. Book choice and ownership, access to books and the availability of reading role models are among the best ways to promote literacy development, both in young children who have not started to read and in older, developing readers. Each year, TRC reaches more than 1,500 children and families and distributes more than 11,500 new books throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Our partners represent a mix of homeless shelters, transitional housing, affordable housing apartments, domestic violence safe houses and family service providers.

The Read-Aloud Program
The goal of the Read-Aloud is to get children to spend more time reading and talking about books so that they begin to see themselves as readers. Read-Alouds are held weekly at 11 different shelters, transitional housing and affordable housing communities. Teams of volunteers spend an hour reading with kids and engaging them in conversation and related activities. At the end of each Read-Aloud, children choose a new book to add to their personal library.  

Book Club
The Book Club extends reading motivation to traditionally hard-to-reach families who are clients of social service agencies. Once enrolled in the Book Club, families receive free, new books by mail each month, along with suggestions to encourage reading in the home. The Book Club offers its materials in English and Spanish.

Reading Families Workshops
Reading Families Workshops, offered to parents of children in the Read-Aloud Program and the Book Club, are designed to increase parents’ confidence in sharing books with their children. TRC staff and volunteers model book-sharing techniques and parents can observe how their children respond to the books. At the end of each workshop, parents choose new books for their children. Workshops are conducted in Spanish, English and Spanish-English bilingual sessions.

Literacy Advocates Training
At Literacy Advocates Trainings, Family Support Workers (FSWs) and partner staff learn to look for and reinforce literacy development milestones when working with children. The trainings introduce partner staff to the world of children’s books, share best practices for language play at home, and explore the developmental stages of language acquisition. 

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Read-Aloud planning made painless: Part 2

The last post explored different styles of Read-Aloud planning and communication.  Here, we cover components to planning a Read-Aloud. 

Why do we include games, crafts and other hands-on activities in a Read-Aloud program? Why don’t we just read with the kids for a full hour?
  • After a full day of school, it’s unrealistic to expect that a group of kids will sit still for 45 minutes while being read to.
  • Activities help kids connect what they’ve been reading with their own experiences and knowledge. They also build background knowledge about various subjects. When you provide relatedYou are building vocabulary, reading comprehension and motivation.

Here are some ideas to consider when planning an activity for your Read-Aloud:

Activities that include movement engage a different part of the brain and are more appealing to kinesthetic learners than sit-still kind of activities. Games (like "Telephone, " "I Spy," or "Duck, Duck, Goose") are a big hit. Songs and finger plays (think "Itsy-Bitsy Spider) work well with younger kids. Google is your friend. Type “kid's song” and your theme.

Activities that engage the senses (things to touch, look at, listen to, smell or taste) bring a theme to life for a child. Try to find something that will engage their senses beyond listening to and looking at books.  Doing a Read-Aloud about the beach? Bring shells and sand to touch and sea weed snacks to taste.

Activities can provide essential, first-time real-world experiences for a child. How can you create an experience for the kids? Many of our kids have never been camping, to a zoo, or on an airplane

Also, it’s always great to have an extra activity in your back pocket. Think about more than one kind of activity to engage different ages and interests. Games are good because they often require no materials. Again, Google is your friend. 

Usually we expect to spend between 20 and 25 minutes reading. That allows a few minutes for name tags, promises and getting settled, about 20 minutes for your activity and 10 minutes for choosing books. You can tinker with these numbers, but we’d ask that you don’t plan on cutting down on the reading time. Spending more time reading is always ok.

One way to expand your activity time is to conduct your activity and book choosing simultaneously. Have one volunteer set up the give-away books while the other volunteers work with the kids on the activity. Then send one or two kids at a time to choose their book and return to the activity.

Be aware that crafts often take longer than other activities. Prepare the materials in advance to maximize time for creativity. Allow enough time for kids to enjoy making their craft and use their imaginations. 

You can also do the activity at the beginning of the Read-Aloud. Especially if the kids are very excited, it might work better to get them engaged in the activity first and then read to them while they are working on a craft or project or after you have completed the activity.

Recycling Read-Alouds
Yes, please do! Please use the TRC Read-Aloud Idea Database for great theme ideas from fellow volunteers. Use themes from other sites or reuse popular themes from your own site if all your kids are new.

To update or refresh your theme, start with your book list. Check the library for any new or favorite titles on the theme that you may not have used before. Choose an activity that is different from the one you chose before.

Expand on or narrow the theme. If you did fairy tales before, this time you could do fractured or modern versions of fairy tales. If you did frogs, you could do amphibians. 

Keeping kids’ attention
Use small groups. We've said it before. We'll say it again.

Have age-appropriate expectations. Four-year olds can’t sit as long as bigger kids.  And even big kids are still kids!

Get the kids moving.  Don’t expect any of the kids to sit still for 25 minutes. With the little ones, break up reading with songs or finger plays. Use games and energizers to add movement to reading time with older kids if necessary. 

Use your volunteers strategically.  If one or two kids need more attention, give it to them by having volunteers read with them individually.

Creative and thorough planning can help a Read-Aloud run smoothly even when you get thrown some curves.  Think outside the box about activities and pay attention to possible timing issues to keep kids engaged.  Reuse or refresh popular themes to minimize leg-work and optimize fun!

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Read-Aloud planning made painless: part 1

There’s more than one way to plan a fantastic Read-Aloud. If your team struggles with planning, whether because you don’t remember it’s your team’s turn to read, someone won’t step up and take the lead in planning, or your plans turn out to be too complex or time consuming, TRC is here to help.

This is the first of two posts about planning stemming from our recent volunteer seminar. In this post, we’ll explore two very different planning styles from TRC sites and some communication options. In the next post, we’ll explore components of planning like timing, choosing activities, recycling Read-Alouds and keeping kids’ attention.

TRC volunteers presented two different planning styles at the seminar. Karen McNeilly from Carpenter’s Shelter and Bonnie Miller and Ellen Abramson from ARHA described how their teams plan Read-Alouds and answered questions from fellow volunteers.
Carpenter’s Shelter uses their TRC Google Docs for long-term planning.  Their site coordinator, David Saunders, creates a Read-Aloud team captain calendar for the entire year. Volunteers can access Google Docs to check when they are assigned to be team captain. 
  • The team captain role rotates through every member of each Read-Aloud team, so every volunteer at the Carpenter’s site is responsible for planning a Read-Aloud once every four months.  
  • The captain does everything for his or her month (theme, books, activity, Read-Aloud report), although he or she may ask other members for help.  
  • The captain emails the rest of the team the week of the Read-Aloud with the plan and team members may add ideas.
  • The team arrives ten minutes before the Read-Aloud to look at the books and the activity and prepare the reading area and the activity. All of the volunteers work together to make sure the space is cleaned up at the end of the Read-Aloud.
Karen also pointed out that
  • They can re-use ideas because kids turn over pretty fast at Carpenter’s. 
  • She researches TRC’s website and Read-Aloud database for theme ideas.
  • In terms of crafts, less is more. Limit the kinds of materials you provide and let the kids’ imaginations do the rest.
Team Three at ARHA plans long-term as a group and assigns responsibilities based on members’ strengths and interests. They also use a conference call a week before their Read-Aloud to firm things up.
Once the Read-Aloud schedule has been set and the team knows the dates they will be reading, the team meets to choose themes for the upcoming four to six months. At that meeting they:
  • review and confirm dates for the upcoming Read-Alouds,
  • brainstorm themes, books and activities,
  • assign a person or volunteer to be the Read-Aloud captain for each week/theme, and
  • one person sends out an email outlining the rough ideas for the next six months with date, theme, name of Read-Aloud captain for each month and dates for upcoming conference calls. 
This team divides up the responsibilities for planning based on members’ strengths and interests.  One person knows a lot about children’s books and likes to get them while other members like to plan and implement the activities, so they do those jobs every month. The whole team has agreed to this arrangement and is involved in the theme choices, brainstorming and implementation.
A week or so before the Read-Aloud, the team has a conference call to review the theme, books, activity and snack. 

The night of the Read-Aloud the team arrives early. The book person has put post-it notes on books highlighting features and recommending age groups. If they using special equipment like a cd player, they make sure it works

ARHA uses its TRC Google Docs to keep track of the themes folks have done or have planned for the future. All teams have access to it, so they can avoid duplication.


One of the keys to easy planning is strong communication within teams and between teams. 
  • E-mail, Google Docs and conference calls can keep everyone in the loop. 
  • Reading the weekly Read-Aloud reports from other teams at your site provides crucial information about the kids attending and themes that have been done or suggested.
  • Meeting with your team after a Read-Aloud or site meeting, or on another date, allows you to work out some long-term plans and brainstorm in person. 
  • Arriving early to Read-Alouds to do a quick briefing and let folks look at the books before they have to read them brings everybody up to speed before the Read-Aloud starts.
However your team chooses to do it, volunteer experience has shown that a pre-planned Read-Aloud is a fun and effective Read-Aloud. Talk with your team today and make your own plan for great Read-Alouds. And take a look at the TRC Training Hub next week when we explore components of planning.

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

Election Day — Hold the Politics

In anticipation of Election Day, we organized a theme around elections, voting and democracy. We began the session by discussing ways in which the children already get to vote, whether for their favorite food at home, for a class representative at school, or about what to do with their friends. 

We first read Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, in which Duck is tired of doing his farm chores so holds elections to take over the farm from Farmer Brown. In an entertaining story, Duck continues to run for higher and higher offices to redress certain grievances.  

In Max for President by Jarrett Krosoczka, Max and Kelly decide they both want to be class president in a tale about election processes and compromise.  

Otto Runs for President by Rosemary Wells presents a similar theme of class elections, but shows what happens in a “race to the bottom” filled with unrealistic campaign promises. 

Vote! by Eileen Christelow
If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier
Larue for Mayor by Mark Teague
I Could Do That! by Esther Morris
Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio
Woodrow, the White House Mouse by Peter and Cheryl Barnes
Clifford for President by Acton Figueroa
My Teacher for President by Kay Winters
D is for Democracy by Elissa Grodin
Why Are Elections Important? by Jacqueline Laks Gorman
Voting in an Election by John Hamilton

The team and children then demonstrated democracy in action by voting at multiple polling stations. To prepare for the voting, every child made a Voter Identification card and every volunteer an Election Official card. The children wrote their names on pre-printed identification cards, then hole-punched them and tied a yarn “lanyard” through them. At the same time, the Central Election Official also set up three separate tables for polling places

When everyone had their IDs, we assigned the voters and election monitors to their first polling place. To be successful, following directions is important, much like in real-life voting. The volunteers helped the children understand the voting question and method at each polling place.

At each station, the election monitors checked the voter IDs, verified that each child had not already voted, explained the voting question and helped the children cast their vote.  

At the first polling place, the children marked a paper ballot and deposited it in a box. At the second, a marble was added to the jar representing their vote and at the third, the voters selected from multiple options on a computer. The team used this last vote as a way of determining the interest level in certain topics we were considering for future Read-Alouds. 

About every 5 minutes, once everyone had voted at their polling place, the Central Election Official called time and each group moved to the next polling place. After everyone had voted at all of polling places, the volunteers and 1 to 2 Deputy Monitors tallied the vote, and then the deputies delivered the official results to the Central Election Official. 

We then discussed the differences of each voting method, revealed the overall results to all the children on a white board, and informed them that they (unknowingly) had voted for a treat at a future Read-Aloud (the snack choice vote). 

Everyone really enjoyed the voting. It was entertaining to see the children and volunteers take their roles seriously and to watch the children try to influence each other.  

Guest blog post written by Jason Dutil, volunteer at Woodbury Park.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Author Profile: Lois Ehlert

"Make art with what you have!" This week we’re featuring one of our favorite authors and illustrators: Lois Ehlert. Ehlert is known for her bold cut-paper and multimedia collage picture book illustrations. Growing up, her family was always making things. Her seamstress mother and woodworking father gave her scraps of fabric, wood and other materials and encouraged her to make her own creations.

Ehlert writes primarily for emerging readers, but researches and designs her books in such a way that they can also engage older, more sophisticated audiences. Although the text of her books is minimal and sometimes rhyming to meet the needs of younger readers, she adds detail and depth by labeling parts of her illustrations and providing extensive notes at the end of her books, similar to the work of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.

Ehlert’s books are perfectly suited to reading aloud. You could easily spend hours exploring her picture books with kids. Don’t be surprised if the kids want to make collages of their own or learn more about birds or leaves or other growing things after reading Ehlert's books. This extensive interview covers her childhood, her late start in book illustration, the process she goes through to create books and much more.

Ehlert may be best known for her books about nature. These books about butterflies, snow, leaves, gardening and various animals leave the reader wanting to go outside and experience nature firsthand. This video provides some insight into her fascination with nature and how her books inspire readers to engage with the natural world. 

To intrigue older readers, focus on her innovative design style. Bold use of color and shapes as well as varying page size and die-cut shapes within the pages make for picture books that are both visually and physically engaging. Use her books Color Zoo and Leaf Man, along with My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall, Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley, and books by Laura Vaccaro Seeger to get the kids thinking creatively about what a book could look like.

If you are reading with a younger crowd, explore her concept books like Planting a Rainbow (colors), Fish Eyes (counting), Eating the Alphabet (ABCs) or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which she illustrated. Many of her books also have simple rhyme schemes that will appeal to younger children. Feathers for Lunch, Nuts to You!, and Waiting for Wings rhyme.

Whether the book is about outdoor adventures, house pet antics, metamorphosis or ugli fruit, you can be sure that Lois Ehlert's books will delight and inspire readers to learn more or create something of their own. 

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

Monday, October 1, 2012

Finding diversity and inspiration in STEM books

Astronaut Sandy Magnus talks with kids 
at Independence Place

One of the best benefits of reading is that the language in books guides us to imagine or create our own vision of the story. It's even better when a story inspires a vision of something we might not have seen or looked for on our own. Our vision may be quite different from the author's vision or from the vision of a movie director. We may even begin to see ourselves in the story. You all knew that, I'm sure, but I hope you'll also recognize that intersection of the story and the readers' / listeners' reactions is where we can use books to best influence and empower young people in the most constructive ways. A single book can spark an interest that could drive an entire career.

Social science research shows correlations between exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), career stereotypes and self-perception, particularly concerning sex, gender, socioeconomic status and race.  As a community, a nation, and as humans, we benefit from diverse thinkers and diverse examples of everything we do and have. This is why I hope you’ll help expose children to books describing a wide variety of STEM professionals: young field researchers, technicians, computer programmers, nurses, accountants, crime scene investigators, architects, mechanics, marine biologists, electrical engineers, civil engineers, construction managers, entrepreneurs, environmental scientists, vulcanologists, health inspectors, IT specialists and astrophysicists.

Where should you look for great STEM books? Many of you may already be familiar with the Children’s Book Council. They have a great Children’s Choices Reading List assembled in cooperation with the International Reading Association.  But, for almost 40 years, experienced science teachers of the National Science Teachers' Association (headquartered right here in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington) have worked with the Children’s Book Council to identify great books, selected based on the books’ accuracy, creativity, how they convey the practices of science and how they engage readers. These lists are called the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12, and the lists from the last 15 years are published online at  

The books vary from exploratory to career inspiring, from poetry to visual art, and from narrowed focus to integration with history and culture. The lists are very comprehensive, so narrow things down by looking for books in the age range of the children at your Read-Alouds and about topics that interest you. Browse these lists, and look for books that especially spark your own curiosity. When you read one aloud, your audience will hear your enthusiasm and may be inspired, too. If you're looking for books describing a specific STEM career, I'll be glad to help.

Guest blog post by Jim Egenrieder - Jim[at]

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Talk with Kids

For volunteers, interacting with kids at Read-Alouds can be intimidating. Children are interested in different things than adults, their social skills aren't yet totally developed, they might not like the books or activities that are being shared with them, and it might prompt them to act out. Furthermore, the kids at TRC Read-Alouds can be even more difficult to interact with since children in unstable family situations--the very demographic TRC works with--can be particularly fidgety, distracted, and hard to engage. But kids are just people, and they want to be treated respectfully and taken seriously. This blog entry will present some ideas on how to connect with kids in conversation, earn their respect and trust, and help engage them in the Read-Aloud.

1. Before the Read-Aloud, engage children in conversation to make them feel welcome.

It's true that you may have different interests, conversational styles and backgrounds than the children you're interacting with, and this might make conversation different--but can't those things be true of anybody? Volunteers should always arrive 15 minutes early for a Read-Aloud to get set up, and part of getting ready is to help make the kids feel welcome and excited. Do this by engaging a child in conversation the way you'd engage an adult who arrived to participate in a meeting or a workshop: ask how their day is going, what they've done that day, and then listen when they answer. Talk about what books they've read recently and if you've read something good, tell the kids about it (briefly). Welcome every child to the Read-Aloud individually, using his or her name.

2. Be aware of the child/adult power dynamic--because you can be sure that the kids are!

Children don't need to be treated like a bomb that could go off at any minute or a wild animal that needs to be lured into sitting still to listen to a storybook! Take care to treat every child as your equal—ask questions that you might ask to a friend and respond to their stories the way you would reply to anyone. Don't dumb down a conversation because you're talking to a 7 year old, just be aware of what conversation topics will interest and engage them.

3. Maintain a respectful disposition towards children who are acting out.

Of course there are times when kids are acting out or talking during a story or distracting their peers, and in those instances it is appropriate for a volunteer to exercise power as an authority figure. If this happens, be sure that in your response you remain calm and gracious. One easy way to do this is to cite the TRC promises that you reviewed at the beginning of your Read-Aloud. Many kids at Read-Alouds are familiar with the language of TRC's promises.

To the child who is talking out during the story, say, "We all promised to respect and listen to one another. Can you be respectful while I am reading?"

To the child who is distracting another child by talking to or physically bothering him or her, say, "I really need your cooperation if we're going to all have fun at the Read-Aloud."

If a child really can't cooperate, respect and listen at a Read-Aloud, have a volunteer pull him or her aside and say, "I really enjoy having you at Read-Alouds and I would hate for you to have to leave. But if you're not ready to be at the Read-Aloud right now, then it's time for you to go home and I'll have to see you next time. Do you think you are ready to be part of our Read-Aloud?"

The key is to emphasize that while certain behaviors are not welcome at Read-Alouds, all children are.

4. Remember that you also promised to Listen, Respect, Cooperate and Have Fun!

It's hard to blame a kid for acting out towards an adult who treats him or her like, well, a kid. Nobody likes to be condescended to or patronized (even by someone the same age as their parent!) As a Read-Aloud volunteer, it's your job to:

Listen to what the children are saying about the books and activities. If they say they don't like one or are bored, ask what kinds of things they would rather read about and what kinds of activities they'd rather do--and then listen to their answers!

Respect their contributions. Just because a kid's story is long and rambling and seems to make no sense, bear with him or her--you might be one of the only people who does. If a child has a problem that seems unimportant--a scab, or trouble sitting still--remember times that you had something distracting you from work or whatever you needed to be doing, and do what you can within reason to help the child solve his or her problem.

Cooperate. If a kid wants to take home a give-away book that is too advanced, reach a compromise: sit him or her down and read the first few pages out loud before letting the child take it home! If a kid's approach to a craft isn't what you had in mind but isn't disruptive or problematic, why not just let him or her go in whatever direction inspiration takes?

Have fun! Don't let kids stress you out! Do your best as a volunteer to listen to, respect and cooperate with the kids at your Read-Aloud, and you will probably do great! Children are sometimes less guarded and more genuine than grown-ups, which should make them easier to talk to.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Arlington Kids Read Fall Community Reading Festival

The Reading Connection, in conjunction with Arlington Magazine, would like to invite all Arlington families to the Fall Community Reading Festival on Saturday, September 29, 2012 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, VA.

The Fall Reading Festival celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, with bilingual read-alouds of folktales, book-related crafts, and delicious snacks. 
Arlington Kids Logo

Storytellers and VIPs will entertain children with Latin-American folktales in English and Spanish. Special guests include

• Virginia Delegate Alfonso Lopez
• Arlington County Board Member Walter Tejada
• Arlington County Library’s Desiree Fairooz
• Maria Elena Giraldo Greene from Hola Baby!

The goal of Arlington Kids Read is to promote reading for Arlington kids and families and to raise funds to support TRC's ongoing reading programs for at-risk kids.

If you're interested in bringing the kids in your life to the festival, you can RSVP at Feel free to pass this information on to friends and family. Flyers for the event can be found in English and Spanish. For more information about the Arlington Kids Read Campaign, check out the website at  
We're looking for TRC volunteers to help as craft coordinators and to assist with set up and registration for this event.  If you're interested in volunteering, please contact Stephanie Berman.

What: Community Reading Festival
When: Saturday, September 29, 2012 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Patrick Henry Elementary School, 701 S. Highland Street, Arlington, VA  22204
Why:  Join us for a lively afternoon of fun, crafts and stories!

Transportation information:  ART 77 and Metrobus 10B and 16 serve the nearby intersection of Walter Reed Drive and Columbia Pike.  Parking is available at Patrick Henry Elementary School.