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, February 27, 2012

TRC's 2012 Literacy Honoree: Jarrett Krosoczka

It’s a bird! It’s a plane!  It’s…the lunch lady?!  Serving sloppy joe’s one minute and justice the next, the protagonist of Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady graphic novels takes down a league of librarians, a cyborg substitute, and many other middle school villains.  

The mastermind behind these action-packed, nationally adored, and deliciously witty novels is Jarrett J. Krosoczka. With the success of his Lunch Lady series and many of his picture books, Krosoczka is not only a talented writer and illustrator, he is one of today’s most popular children’s authors. It is no surprise that he was selected as the Literacy Honoree at The Reading Connection’s 2012 Of Wine & Words fundraiser. As the 2012 Literacy Honoree, Krosoczka will be giving a keynote speech and signing books at Of Wine & Words on March 9, 2012, as well as speaking with guests at the exclusive VIP reception.

Of Wine and Words will be held on March 9, 2012 at 7 P.M. at the Boeing Conference Center in Rosslyn, VA. The VIP reception will begin at 6:30 P.M. The night will include an appearance by our first ever Chef Chair -- executive pastry chef at Lyon Hall, Rob Valencia. Guests will enjoy an impressive wine and beer tasting, a selection of gourmet food from the area’s top restaurants and a silent auction. Tickets can be purchased here.

Krosoczka may be a best-selling author with two books currently being made into motion pictures, (the Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute and Punk Farm) but those aren’t the only reasons we chose him as our 2012 Literacy Honoree. Like us here at The Reading Connection, Krosoczka has a deep love for reading, illustration and children. To honor these passions, as well as the grandparents who raised him, Krosoczka established the Memorial YouthScholarships at Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA, where he himself took art classes as a child. To find out more about Jarrett, visit his website or check out his blog

Before the main event, Krosoczka will be reading with the kids at the Woodbury Park Read-Aloud program as a special treat. We are excited and honored to have him at this year’s Of Wine & Words and hope to see you all there! 

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

TRC EDU: Fun, Not Frustration: TRC Game Plan for Read-Aloud Success (Part 2)

Welcome back! We're returning to the topic of engaging kids in a positive way while minimizing disruptions.

You can help keep your Read-Aloud running smoothly by breaking the kids into small groups, using your space creatively, and catching the kids being good (see TRC Game Plan, Part I and video below) but it will only work if you, the other teams at your site and the kids consistently know what to expect from each other. That's where predictability, consistency and reinforcement come in. 

Here's a TRC Volunteer demonstrating excellent positive reinforcement skills!

Use these ideas at every Read-Aloud for best results.

Bring in reinforcements. Site staff members are there to help you. They work with these kids most days of the week and know what makes them tick and what really works to refocus or calm them down. They have told us that although they want you to handle disruptions as much as possible, if you need help managing a situation, need to remove a child from a Read-Aloud, or could use their calming influence or insights into the kids’ personalities and dynamic, don't hesitate to get the staff's help. Site staff want everyone to enjoy the Read-Aloud as much as you do.

Also, don't forget the power of one-on-one interaction. Use your team creatively and when a child is having an especially hard time, try pairing him or her with a volunteer who can explore books, do the activity or talk one-on-one. Sometimes some personal attention is what a child needs to get through a rough patch.

Be predictable. Not knowing what to expect is stressful. When people are stressed out, they tend to behave erratically. Stress floods the body with adrenaline that switches the brain from making choices based on reason to making choices based on fight or flight instincts.

Many of the children we serve find themselves in a constant state of stress, biochemically altering the way they cope with situations. When TRC Read-Alouds are predictable and consistent week to week, the kids' stress levels will drop and they'll be able to participate more constructively. They'll also know exactly what is and is not allowed and thus won't be as tempted to push the limits.

As a TRC volunteer, you decrease erratic behavior when

  • your whole team shows up on time (that means 10 minutes before the start time of the Read-Aloud),
  • you come prepared with an exciting, engaging Read-Aloud, and
  • you always start your Read-Aloud by reviewing the TRC Promises and what they mean.

When kids know what expectations we have for them, when we remind them of those expectations and when we consistently enforce them, the kids can relax and engage more fully in the activities you have prepared for them.

Using the TRC Promises to promote positive behavior means that every team, every week consistently

  • talks through the promises and their meaning with the kids,
  • reminds a child, using calm and specific language, when he or she is not keeping her promise to listen, respect, cooperate or have fun, and
  • explains that kids get two chances, and if they can’t keep their promises, they have to leave the Read-Aloud for that week.

To explain the three chances idea, you can use a stoplight analogy: green light, yellow light, red light. If a sports reference is easier for the kids to understand, you can use a baseball analogy: three strikes and you can try again at the next inning (Read-Aloud). Or, you can use a yellow card and red card soccer analogy. 

If, after two reminders, a child is still too disruptive to participate with the group or work with a volunteer one-on-one, explain to the child that because he or she wasn’t able to keep his or her promises this time, he or she will have to leave the Read-Aloud. Get a staff member to remove the child and encourage the child to come back next week.

For the children to behave consistently, every team, every week, needs to be consistent in their use and enforcement of the TRC Promises.

The promises aren't only for the kids.  Volunteers also promise to listen, respect, cooperate and have fun. Understand the kids' need to engage and move around. Don’t talk about the kids in a negative way in front of them. Listen to their ideas. Allow them to help. Bring a boatload of fun to your Read-Alouds.

Having positive expectations, working consistently to encourage good behavior and constructively containing disruptions will allow for more fun at your Read-Aloud for both you and the kids.

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

Monday, February 13, 2012

Read Across America: Celebrating Dr. Seuss

The big day is coming right up--Read Across America Day 2012 is right around the corner!

Read Across America, celebrated on March 2 in honor of Dr.Seuss' birthday, is a reading awareness program that calls for every child in every community around the country to celebrate reading.

The theme of Read Across America this year is "green" in honor of the film adaption of The Lorax, which will open on March 2 as well.

Since TRC's Read-Alouds take place four nights a week, we will be celebrating Read Across America Week during the week of February 27. Take the opportunity to do a nature themed Read-Aloud:

The Lorax, by beloved children's author Dr. Seuss, tells the story of the Lorax, who "speaks for the trees" in this story that talks about deforestation and environmental degradation in language and pictures that anyone can understand. Because The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss' longer books--and because it is fairly text heavy--try clipping pages together if there are sections you feel you can skip over. You can read just a few pages, or read only parts of pages--be creative and do whatever you need to do. 

Tell Me, Tree: All about Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons is a nonfiction book with colorful pictures that introduces young readers to the parts of trees and how they fit in nature. It even features a section about how to make your own tree identification book and is perfect for kids who are eager to learn. Making tree identification books and going outside to see what kinds of trees are nearby are great activities to go along with this story.

The Listening Walk, by Paul Showers, tells the story of a father and daughter who go on a walk. As they go through the neighborhood with their dog, Major, they see what they can hear in nature--and it turns out they can hear a lot! Go on a short listening walk on your own and see what you and your readers can hear.

Most of Dr. Seuss' books are quite text heavy, so to celebrate Read Across America and Dr. Seuss with a younger audience that may not be ready for The Lorax, try these other Seuss books:

Green Eggs and Ham 
For a snack, green hard-boiled eggs are always a winner!

If I Ran the Zoo 
What weird animals can the kids come up with? Have them draw pictures, make up names and introduce their animal creation to everyone else.

Fox in Socks 
Take advantage of all that Dr. Seuss has given us in his stories: whisper and shout, speed up and slow down, have the kids try saying the rhymes and tongue twisters: 
"When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle, THIS is what they call...a tweetle beetle noodle poodle bottled paddled muddled duddled fuddled wuddled fox in socks, sir!"
If THAT won't get them to laugh, then NOTHING will!

The fact that Read Across America Day is a national effort to celebrate reading may appeal to kids--so make sure they know about it, and know that they're part of something special. For ideas for fun activities, including the Reader's Oath, go to the National Education Association website.  If those ideas aren't enough for you, check out this blog entry for more.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Snack or Not to Snack

That seems to be the question.

Some TRC sites always include a snack in their Read-Aloud. Others never do, and yet there are some that include a snack now and again as a special treat. When carefully planned, snacks can add a wonderful component to your Read-Aloud.

  • Kids always seem to be hungry, and feeding them is a good way to avert low blood sugar grumpiness. Our Read-Alouds take place in the evening, a prime tummy-rumbling time of day. Some teams even provide snacks at the beginning of their Read-Aloud to settle the kids and quiet growling tummies. Volunteers pass out the snack and start reading to the kids as they nibble.
  • Cooking with the kids allows for hands-on fun, so assembling a snack can sometimes serve as your activity.
  • Snacks related to your Read-Aloud theme can add an extra-special dimension to the experience.

  • Be sure to make sure your site allows you to serve a snack. Check with site staff before bringing food to a Read-Aloud. Also ask about rules regarding where food may be served. Some sites allow kids to eat at the Read-Aloud, but they may not allow food to be removed from that room.
  • Ask site staff about food allergies and sensitivites, and just to be sure, avoid nuts of all kinds and anything sesame. (Use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter.)  
  • Never use snacks as a behavior management tool -- do not offer it as a bribe or withhold it as punishment. Many of the kids we serve may have experienced anxiety about not having enough to eat. If you bring a snack, everyone at the Read-Aloud gets to enjoy it.
  • Try to make snacks healthy as well as fun. Keep in mind that our Read-Alouds happen either right before or right after dinner. 
  • Many sites have access to a sink and sometimes a microwave. You can also bring an electric skillet or kettle, toaster oven, popcorn maker or electric grill with you.
  • Clean up very carefully after yourselves.


Snacks don't have to be related to the Read-Aloud, but it sure is fun when they are! Here are some ideas from your fellow volunteers and TRC staff:
  • Fruit kabobs for a caterpillar theme (thread grapes, melon balls and berries on a skewer or piece of uncooked spaghetti to make a caterpillar). Other caterpillar examples can be found here. 
  • English muffin pizzas for a pizza theme
  • Ants on a log (celery, raisins and sunflower seed butter or cream cheese) for a picnic or bug theme
  • Bird-seed trail mix for a bird theme (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, cheerios)
  • Fruits and veggies of many different colors for a rainbow theme
  • Air-popped popcorn for a popcorn, native American or movie Read-Aloud (TRC has an air popper you can borrow)
  • Pretzels as the in-flight snack for a flying or travel Read-Aloud
  • Cocoa and ginger bread for winter themes
  • Sugar snap peas, sprouts or hard boiled eggs for spring themes
  • Fruit smoothies for summertime themes
  • Apples and pumpkin seeds for fall themes
You get the idea. Let the books inspire you. Get the kids involved and add taste to the senses you engage at your next Read-Aloud!

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