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, 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.