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, 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.