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 16, 2013

Holiday shopping

Are you still looking for the perfect gift for the kids and adults on your list? Lucky for you, The Reading Connection (TRC) is here to help.

Books are a great gift for kids of all ages. Build a love of reading from the very start by giving infants and toddlers board books that were made just for them. Board books can stand up to the heavy love that babies give them.  They are resistant to tears and being chewed on, since their pages are made of cardboard.

Picture books can appeal to young people from toddlers and teens, depending on their design and content. Take the time to read through a picture book that catches your eye. You might be surprised at the wit or depth contained therein. Don't hesitate to ask a bookseller to recommend her favorite titles for the children you have in mind. 

"Early readers" are designed to help beginning and newly independent readers feel confident reading on their own. You'll know these books by the distinctive 6-inch by 9-inch size. Reading books on favorite subjects is a strong motivator for new readers; it's well worth your time to seek out early readers on your young reader's current passion. 

Novels and nonfiction books for older kids come in all shapes and sizes. Find out what gets your recipient fired up and go from there.  Some kids will want the newest book in their favorite series, and these series are available for all ages (one current favorite is Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck). Ask a booksellers advice about the best choices for the age and interests of the child for whom you're buying. 
For the readers on your list, check out the many lists of top books of the year. Some of our favorites from this year are

Middle grade: Wonder and One Crazy Summer
Young adult: Allegiant and The 5th Wave

You can also find year-end recommendations at Goodreads and Indie Bound or on our wish list.  When buying books, please support your local independent bookstores, who support TRC.

Consider honoring friends and family who love books by helping to provide free books and literacy-rich experiences for at-risk kids and families. A $10 donation to The Reading Connection can purchase and deliver a book to the home of one of our Book Club kids. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Winter Wonderland Crafts

Cold and snow outside make excellent reading conditions inside. If you are looking for something hands-on to do after you read about snow or polar regions, go play in the snow! But if you don't have any snow, and you don't want to make another paper snowflake, try these frosty crafts. (Click on the name of each craft for a link to instructions.)

Marshmallow Snowman
When it’s too cold to build a snowman outside, craft one inside using mini marshmallows – and you don’t have to worry about this guy melting any time soon. This craft leaves room for a tasty snack afterwards!

Paper Plate Penguin
Making this adorable fellow is a simple but fun craft for a young crowd. With just two paper plates, scissors, glue and markers, everyone can make a penguin friend.

Popsicle Stick Snowflake 
Forget cut-paper snow flakes. Go for 3-D flakes made with craft popsicle sticks. Decorate the popsicle sticks with white buttons, beads, glitter or anything else you can find at the bottom of your craft bin.

Handprint Polar Bear
Handprints can turn into just about anything, including this fuzzy friend from the North Pole. Blue paper, white paint and a marker are all you need for this frosty craft.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Use yoga to help kids focus at Read-Alouds

How can you get kids to settle down when they're full of energy? Try using some simple, kid-friendly yoga moves.

An article entitled How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement in the May 2013 issue of Educational Leadership discussed the benefits of yoga and movement on kids’ focus and behavior. 

“Having students engage in slow stretching while taking slow deep breaths can increase their oxygenation. Yoga training has been shown to increase metabolic controls so children can better manage themselves.”

“Recess and physical education contribute to greater oxygen intake and better learning (Winter et al., 2007)....The use of games, movement, and drama will trigger the release of glucose, stored in the body as glycogen.  Proper glucose levels are associated with stronger memory and cognitive function.” 

The following yoga moves are taught in the Yoga4Classrooms™ training, created by Lisa Flynn. Use these moves alone or in combination with others to energize or calm kids at transition times.

Yoga Moves for Calm

Bumble Bee Breath
  • Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose before exhaling out “hmmmmm” as long as possible. 
  • First try this with your eyes open, and then with your eyes closed. Then try blocking your ears to make your head fill with the humming sound.
Flying Bird Breath
  • Breathe in slowly while lifting your arms out to sides and then up over your head with your palms facing up.
  • Slowly exhale as you lower your "wings" down to your sides, palms facing down.
  • Sit up tall with your fingers laced together. 
  • Turn your palms out and inhale deeply while extending your arms straight up in the air.
  • Exhale, round your shoulders, push your spine back and push your arms in front of you.

Yoga Moves for Energy

  • Stand up tall with your feet under your hips.
  • Inhale as you bring your hands in front and above your head and lean slightly backwards.
  • Exhale and lean forward, letting your arms swing down like the water over a waterfall.
  • Inhale and bring the water (your arms) back up to the top and then have them crash down again.
Washing Machine
  • Stand up tall with your feet under your hips and let your arms hang loose by your sides.
  • Turn your upper body from side to side and allow your arms to wrap around you as you twist.
  • Once you are all clean, turn off the washing machine and slowly come back to standing still. Finish with Flying Bird Breath to dry out.
Twisting Star
  • Spread your feet wide apart and stretch your arms out to the side. You should look like a five-pointed star.
  • To make the star twinkle, reach your right hand down to the ground between your feet with your left arm pointing up. Stay there for a breath or two and then switch sides.
  • You can also make the star twinkle by going back to the basic star position and rocking from side to side while balancing on each foot. You can sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" while rocking or saying “twinkle, twinkle, stop.”  Freeze and balance when you say stop.

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

This is your brain on poverty

The topic of the TRC Volunteer Seminar held on October 30, 2013 was "This is your brain on poverty." Lib Gillam, a therapist at the Center for Alexandria’s Children, addressed the effect of being homeless on growing children.    
Ms. Gillam began her presentation by describing the Circle of Security. This behavioral model and corresponding graphic provide the best ways of interacting with a child while attending to his needs.  

As the responsible adult at a Read-Aloud, a volunteer is essentially a child’s caregiver for that period of time. Kids need the volunteers to provide a safe haven and secure base where they can feel safe, comfortable and appreciated. The Circle of Security graphic above shows some specific ways in which volunteers can help kids feel safe and secure so the kids can eventually explore and learn new things. Over time, with such support, kids can work through their feelings.

Next, Ms. Gillam described the physiological effects of homelessness and poverty on developing children and the ways in which children's behavior can be affected. When under stress, the body floods the brain with adrenalin and the body and brain go into fight-or-flight mode. Kids growing up in stressful conditions find their bodies persistently in crisis mode. 

Lacking a sense of control and safety in their everyday lives, children living in homelessness and poverty may exhibit changes in their behavior. Ms. Gillam pointed out various triggers and common responses from children under stress. Some examples are:
  • loss of security: she may become hyper-vigilant or emotional
  • loss of control: he may try to take control or act out for a limit to be set
  • loss of attachment from someone: she may become clingy or avoid contact
  • shaken self-concept: he may become withdrawn or look for a role in a group
  • anxiety from adults: she will carefully assess adult enthusiasm versus tension

Because the bodies and brains of Read-Aloud kids are likely in an emotionally-charged fight-or-flight mode, it is important to connect with them emotionally and help them feel safe. Volunteers first need to build a relationship with the child before directing or correcting their behavior. According to Ms. Gillam, the best method is to "Connect, then correct.”

While working with kids under stress may seem daunting, the good news is that positive experiences make a difference in the brain.
Experiences that strengthen connections

  • are frequent, regular and predictable,
  • occur in the context of a warm, supportive relationship,
  • are associated with positive emotions (fun, excitement, humor, comfort),
  • involve several senses and
  • are responsive to the child’s interests or initiative.
Creating a TRC Read-Aloud that is fun, predictable and safe helps kids switch out of fight-or-flight mode and create new, positive connections in the brain. 

When asked what elements of this talk they would use at their Read-Alouds, TRC volunteers said, "Now we understand where kids are coming from." Realizing how consistency supports kids under stress and that the kids need to have fun with them gives the volunteers an informed perspective to planning and conducting Read-Alouds.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013


What is that special something that enables a person to survive and sometimes even excel under challenging circumstances? What factors or resources strengthen or bolster a child? The September 2013 issue of Educational Leadership explored the concept of resilience and its role in learning.
A study described in the issue, Resilience and At-risk Children and Youth, explains that resilience has two parts: "1) An exposure to great risk; and 2) Corresponding factors that help promote positive outcomes or reduce negative outcomes." (p. 3) At-risk children, like the kids TRC serves, often experience multiple risk factors. When these factors occur together, they multiply the behavior problem. For example, "children in families that had accumulated two risk factors showed a more than fourfold increase in behavior problems" when compared to families with one stress factor. (p.4)

In the same issue of Educational Leadership, Nan Henderson’s article, Havens of Resilience, describes protective factors that help kids develop their resilience. The author created a graphic, the Resiliency Wheel, that represents the resiliency-building conditions that have been identified through research.

 Nan Henderson's Resiliency Wheel
from Educational Leadership, September 2013

According to Henderson, the most important environmental protective factor is providing caring and support. The other five factors grow out of it.

The structure and content of TRC's Read-Aloud program provide several protective factors that help kids weather challenging situations. 

At the beginning of each Read-Aloud, volunteers set and communicate high expectations and also set clear and consistent boundaries when they remind kids about TRC’s Promises (Listen, Respect, Cooperate and Have Fun). Consistently reminding the kids about the Promises and enforcing them every week helps the kids know what to expect and reduces their stress.

Every time a volunteer asks a child for his opinion about a story or encourages her to choose a book to take home, the volunteer is expressing his perception of the child as a reader, another high expectation.

By taking the time to ask questions, listening to what kids say about the books being read aloud and providing engaging activities, volunteers create opportunities for meaningful participation and teach life skills.

Getting to know the children and encouraging positive interaction with their Read-Aloud peers increases prosocial bonding. Meeting weekly throughout the year creates a community of readers that cares for and supports each other. This social aspect of the Read-Aloud experience helps kids feel connected to other readers in their neighborhood and to the reading community at large.

The hour each week that TRC kids spend at a Read-Aloud supports their growth as readers and provides them with a positive, consistent, engaging environment that fosters their resilience. Reading with volunteers provides a healthy escape from stress and creates a supportive, caring community that the kids can count on. TRC's Read-Aloud program helps kids become frequent and passionate readers, but it also does so much more in the process.

Nan Henderson, Havens of Resilience, Educational Leadership September 2013, Vol. 71 No. 1, pp. 23-27.

Jan Moore,  Resilience and At-Risk Children and Youth, National Center for Homeless Education, April 2013.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Worms Read-Aloud

A few weeks ago, the volunteers at Sullivan House held a Read-Aloud about worms. They brought in live worms and let the kids get some hands-on experience while reading about these slimy creatures.  

The volunteers began their worm night by reading Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin. This humorous picture book details the life of a worm kid diary format, including eating his homework and having a hard time doing the Hokey Pokey. While keeping the kids laughing, this book also teaches a few interesting facts about worms. 

They read aloud Yucky Worms by Vivian French next. In this book, a little boy and his grandma find a worm in her garden. The boy thinks the worm is yucky until his grandma teaches him all the interesting things she knows about worms.

After reading both books, the group discussed some of the facts it had just learned from the books, including the following:  
  • Worms' heads are pointed and their tails are rounded. 
  • Worms are segmented and this helps them move through soil. Their movements loosen the soil and aerate the ground.
  • Worms eat dead organic material. They also eat small amounts of garbage and small rocks.
  • Their waste fertilizes the soil. 
  • Worms can regenerate segments of their bodies.
  • Some worms can grow up to 22 feet long.
  • Worms do not have lungs. They breathe through their skin.
  • Worms have no eyes.
After reading in a large group, the volunteers passed out real worms and magnifying glasses, and gave the kids time to examine the worms. This exercise triggered many questions from the kids, which they discussed with the volunteers. They also read some additional books in smaller groups. After washing hands, the group enjoyed a snack of gummy worms.

The volunteers brought a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction books to read in small groups. Some of their favorite additional titles were Inch By Inch by Leo Lionni and Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer.

If you're not up for digging up your own worms, you can purchase 12 night crawler worms at PetSmart or other pet supply stores for about $4.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Race for a Cause

The 2013 Acumen Solutions Race for a Cause 8k & 1-Mile Fun Run is this Sunday, October 13, 2013. We hope you'll join us for an October morning of outdoor fun. 
By registering to run or walk in the 8k or 1-Mile Fun Run, you will support TRC's important work. This is a great opportunity to invite friends, family members and colleagues to join you in supporting TRC. 
The race begins at 8:00 a.m. The start and finish line is on North Quincy Street, near the intersection with Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington, VA and just a few blocks from TRC's office. 

When you register for the race at, remember to select TRC as your nonprofit choice. Make sure you register soon because registration closes on Thursday, October 10 at 9:00 p.m
If you already have registered for this year's race, thank you. If not, this is the time to step up and support TRC! If you have other plans for Sunday and cannot be there, you can still help by sponsoring a child from our program who wants to participate.

We hope you'll join us for a fun, healthy and rewarding Sunday morning. Your support will help TRC in its mission to create and sustain literacy-rich environments for at-risk children in our community.

We look forward to seeing you there! 

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Day the Crayons Quit

Crayons have feelings too, you know.

In the delightful new picture book The Day the Crayons Quit, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, crayons tell a little boy just how they feel about their workload, stereotypes and inter-crayon relations. The crayons’ complaints are funny and kid-friendly, but will also resonate with grown-ups, making this an ideal book to read aloud.

One day, when Duncan opens his crayon box to do a little drawing, he finds a stack of letters, but no crayons. Each of the twelve crayons in his box has written Duncan a letter explaining its reasons for going AWOL. Red is overworked, Purple has control issues, Beige is underappreciated, Gray seeks diversity in his tasks, Orange and Yellow are fighting and Green is caught in the middle. And so it goes.

As the crayons’ manager, can Duncan address his workers’ issues and get them back to work? To be successful, he’ll have to think outside the (crayon) box!

Nearly all the text in this book is in the form of short letters from the crayons to Duncan, making it well suited to reading aloud to a group. Each letter is accompanied by a picture featuring the complaining crayon. Before reading each letter, readers can ask listeners to predict what each color is unhappy about, and of course ask them to predict what Duncan will do to resolve the situation.

Both the story and the illustrations beg you to break out the crayons or to imagine what other toys or household items might think about their situation. Are your Legos dissatisfied? Do the dress-up clothes in your toy box lament being typecast? What about your kitchen appliances? Do they have DIY home improvement aspirations? Get your kids imagining and talking about the ordinary objects in their lives using this book.

The Day the Crayons Quit would work well when paired with other books about unhappy workers, like Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, or with books about letters like Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie, Dear Mrs. LaRue by Mark Teague or The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. And, you can always go the unorthodox color book route with Lemons Are Not Red by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

No matter what you choose to read with The Day the Crayons Quit, the cheeky crayons and Duncan’s sympathetic and creative response to them will delight readers and listeners alike!

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Building readers, one child at a time

Last week, four-year-old Diana and her mother came to the Columbia Grove community room to check out the Read-Aloud program they'd heard about. Diana was far from convinced that this was where she wanted to be and clung tightly to her mother. 

A volunteer talked with Diana one-on-one to help ease her transition into the Read-Aloud program before bringing Diana and her mom to where the other kids and volunteers were reading. Diana sat on her mom's lap during the reading, but it wasn't long before she was pointing to things in the book and making her own balloon rocket. 

Diana tells about her Read-Aloud experience

At the end of the hour, I checked back with Diana to see if she'd changed her mind about the experience. She was grinning ear-to-ear and was eager to share that she'd be coming back. When asked what her favorite part was, she replied "When they read a book."

We hope all of the children and families that we serve feel the way Diana did about reading. In the past fiscal year, The Reading Connection reached a total of 1,824 children and gave them 12,498 books. The Read-Aloud program, which Diana participated in, reached 495 children in Virginia and DC with the help of more than 200 community volunteers. With your help, volunteering or donating to TRC, we can have an even greater impact each year to come.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Channeling high energy into active learning

A recent article in The Atlantic by author and middle-school teacher Jessica Lahey focused on making classroom environments more welcoming to boys. It got me thinking about ways to channel all kids' natural energy into active learning about books and reading.

Instead of endlessly shushing kids and telling them to sit still, why not tap into their natural need to move and inherent curiosity and creativity? The Atlantic article I mentioned above cites a study about classroom techniques that are especially successful with boys. It also points out that these methods can be used effectively with both boys and girls. Here are some of the techniques, adapted to pertain to reading aloud with a group of children.

While preparing to read with kids, look at the books you are using and think about ways you can:

  • Make the experience more dramatic by using novelty or surprise.
    If the kids are expecting a straightforward read-through, delight them with props or change your voice to differentiate between characters. Use varied pacing as you read to build suspense. Have more than one adult read the story aloud together. Try Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka with two people.

  • Encourage independent, personal discoveries and realizations by helping kids connect what you are reading with something they already know. Allow time for discussion that lets the kids have an "Aha!" moment where they can connect something they already know or have experienced with what you are reading. While reading, ask questions like, “Does this remind you of anything?” or “How do you feel about what just happened?” Watch the light bulb go on over their heads and their excitement build as new knowledge clicks with old.

When you are planning reading-related activities, think about ones that:
  • Result in an end product.  Encouraging kids to apply their own creativity to a topic they've just read about builds both motivation and comprehension. Think superhero masks, rain sticks, flip books or anything the kids can create and take with them. The best kinds of projects are related to the theme and open-ended, allowing for creativity and interpretation.
  • Require a combination of competition and teamwork. Sometimes we learn best from each other. Games and team projects allow kids to share knowledge and support each other's learning. Get kids to start accessing their background knowledge about a specific Read-Aloud theme by playing Jeopardy or a trivia game before you start reading. Or, strengthen their comprehension about the theme by playing a related game after reading. At a recent Read-Aloud at Columbia Grove about fish, a volunteer created a game with pictures of different kinds of fish that the kids, working in teams, organized according to different criteria:  fresh water vs. salt water, smallest to largest, predator and prey. 
  • Require motor activity. Some kids learn best by moving. Physical activities such as doing puzzles or running relay races related to your theme, or acting out a story let the kids use a different part of their brain during the reading process. More generally, taking a break from reading to play Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or using TRC’s activity cube or Energizers can help kids better focus on the reading experience.
Encouraging kids to use their energy to be actively engaged in listening to, thinking about, talking about and understanding books makes for better learning and more fun for everyone!

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Finding Read-Aloud books on A Mighty Girl blog

Like the Children's Book-a-Day Almanac blog (here is our write-up from last April), A Mighty Girl blog is another fine resource to help you compose a strong list of books for your Read-Aloud.   

While A Mighty Girl's mission is girl-oriented, this blog is an excellent resource whether or not you have girls in your life. It provides a fun and savvy slice of family life for anyone who works with, lives with, or is interested in the universe of kids in 2013. 

The book lists in particular are a valuable resource and are especially helpful when putting together a themed Read-Aloud. Click on the "Books" tab at the top left of the navigation bar to find the book lists. 

The next time you find yourself needing just a few more books to complete your Read-Aloud theme, use A Mighty Girl's general interest lists. The site is strong on categories such as food/gardening, animals/nature, creative arts and other subjects that are frequent Read-Aloud themes. Open any of these and you'll find an easy-to-scan page (here is the one on creative arts, as just one example) that offers book options that could work for your particular theme. Each book is represented by its cover, followed by a synopsis, a description from a review source or Amazon, recommended age range, number of pages, price, publisher, etc. 

The books on a theme page are not presented in any particular order, but even so, it is quite easy to find the books appropriate for most Read-Alouds. Picture books are obviously identified because their cover photos are larger than those of chapter books. 

For example, if you’re trying to complete your book list for an air travel Read-Aloud (details here), click on A Mighty Girl's "Transportation" category. From the picture books listed, you might choose Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen as an addition to your book list. Violet is a young girl who loves to build things, including a plane that she enters in an airshow. Another option is Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride, beautifully illustrated by Brian Selznick, which features double-page spreads of Washington, DC, and recounts a night-time flight taken by Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt. In a snap of the fingers, you have two great books to add to your air travel Read-Aloud!

The blog's other sections (Toys, Movies/TV, Clothes, Parenting, etc.) are as helpful as the book lists. We're happy to spread the news about this informative and well-designed site.  

This post was written by The Reading Connection's intern Margaret Fogarty.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

How I spent my summer: interning at TRC

College students all across the country compete for internships that will develop skills and build résumés. Some dream of a "Washington internship." Everyone wants one with great coworkers and many valuable experiences. At The Reading Connection (TRC), I got all of that and more.

As a rising junior studying early childhood education at Wheaton College in Norton, MA, I don’t think I could have found an internship that fit better with my professional plans. Throughout the nine weeks I have been with TRC, I have been able to learn about the day-to-day and long-term operations of an influential nonprofit, plan and help run many Read-Alouds, help coordinate volunteers, work on fundraising projects and assist the staff with tasks that needed completion. I’ve even learned how to get jammed card stock out of a printer! Although I was here for a short time, the staff welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like a regular staff member. I was included in all staff meetings and lunches, and even got to interact with some of the many friendly and dedicated board members.

TRC's book supply
The office fish
Getting to plan and help carry out the Read-Alouds was a great learning experience. Doing research and outlining the Read-Aloud elements were important practice for the many lesson plans I will be writing at college and as a teacher someday. It has been interesting to find out what works and what doesn’t.  This experience has really taught me to think on my feet and go with the flow.

The most valuable experience that I will take away from this great internship is the time I spent with the children at Read-Alouds. TRC is doing such important work and I was proud to help accomplish it. Seeing a young boy’s eyes light up when he learned that he could keep the book he had just chosen was just one of the many moments I will always be grateful to have had.

An afternoon project: create a bus Read-Aloud

This post was written by TRC's summer intern Margaret Fogarty. TRC has two intern positions open for the fall semester: one is a program internship, similar to the one described by Margaret. The second is a communications internship, working on electronic media outreach. For details on both positions, see the TRC website.   

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Providing back-to-school backpacks for TRC kids

Some of the backpacks filled and distributed in 2012.
Just as so many of us remember the joy of childhood reading, we probably remember the fun of new school supplies. Yellow #2 pencils,  boxes of new crayons, new composition books, all stuffed in a new backpack. 

You won't be surprised to learn that the parents of the children we serve often don't have the means to buy new school supplies for their children. To meet this need, we've partnered with The Boeing Company’s DC area offices for 10 years to provide backpacks, school supplies and books to the kids in our programs and other deserving agencies. 

This year, our goal is to provide 600 backpacks filled with age-appropriate school supplies -- pencils, notebooks, folders, scissors, glue sticks and crayons or colored pencils. And, because we're all about the fun of new books, each backpack also includes two new books.

As of today, we've exceeded our goal!  Boeing employees have once again donated generously to this effort and provided nearly $16,000 for backpacks, school supplies and books.  

Like our Facebook page, and then "like" the photos of Boeing, TRC and partner agency staff stuffing hundreds of backpacks.  It's an August ritual we've come to love!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Illusion and Imagination Create a Magical Read-Aloud Session

Volunteers on Team Three at ARHA recently put together a captivating Read-Aloud session about magic. Team Three piqued the kids' interest from the get-go when Read-Aloud volunteer Kevin produced his imaginary dog "Cupcake" on her invisible dog leash. You can imagine the excitement.

Kevin, who is a professional dog trainer by day, had answers to all of the kids' questions about Cupcake. To carry out the illusion, Kevin said that Cupcake needed a nap and put her in the crate (a prop he had brought along) when it was time to begin reading.

To get the kids thinking about magic tricks, Kevin had a brown paper bag and asked the kids to throw imaginary balls into it. When the kids threw their balls, Kevin made the motion of catching them in the bag and snapped his fingers on the back side of the bag to the make the sound of the ball hitting the bottom. The effect was so realistic that even the volunteers had to ask how it worked.

For the large group Read-Aloud, Ellen read Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. This book explores a simple optical illusion. If you look at the drawing one way you see a duck and if you look at it another way you see a rabbit. It was a great introduction to optical illusions, and the simple text and engaging illustrations kept the children interested. Volunteers talked with the kids about how many magic tricks use optical illusions.

After the large group Read-Aloud, the group watched a YouTube video featuring Steve Frayne. This video contains three tricks: he walks on water, puts a cell phone into a glass bottle and walks through glass. The team showed the kids the bottle trick and the walking through glass trick. All the kids (and the grown-ups) were amazed and unable to answer the inevitable question of "how did he do that!"

For small group reading, the volunteers read some of these books:
The Magic Rabbit by Richard Watson
For the activity, the kids learned how to do the imaginary ball in a paper bag trick. They were excited to learn how the trick worked after watching Kevin do it at the beginning of the Read-Aloud. To make this trick work, all the kids had to do was to fold down the top of the paper bag to keep it open and work on their finger-snapping and acting skills. With some practice, all the kids were able to succeed at the trick and could not wait to show it off at home.

The real trick to having a successful Read-Aloud about magic is to keep it as simple as possible. Easy props such as a magician's hat, cape or wand would also be great additions, even if you don't have an invisible dog!

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

More Movement for More Focus

How can you get kids to settle down when they're full of energy? Strange as it may seem, you'll often find that more movement creates focus.  

Using group movement to enable kids to focus on a book can work wonders. And, you'll feel a lot better about your management skills doing that instead of engaging in a lot of shushing.  

In "Go Bananas," everybody moves his or her body in unison while reciting a fun rhyme. All the kids have to pay attention, concentrate and think to "go bananas" together. After having "gone bananas" as a group, the kids will be ready to sit and listen. Check out the video of TRC kids ages 4 to 7 going bananas.  

How to "Go Bananas"

  • “Bananas, unite!” (Extend arms extended over head.)
  • “Go bananas, go, go bananas!" Repeat.  (Peel arms down repeatedly.)
  • “Peel to the left, peel to the right, peel down the middle!” (Peel left arm down, right arm down and left arm in the middle.)
  • “And chomp, take a bite, chomp, chomp, take a  bite!” (Scissor arms like an alligator each time you say "chomp.")

Yoga for Kids

For different groups or on other days, you might need a quieter option. Why not try yoga? Have the kids take five or six deep breaths, stretching their hands high on the inhale and rounding their hands back to "heart center" during the exhale. That kind of movement works wonders in calming down a group of kids. For more kid-friendly yoga moves, here are some poses that elicit group movement and concentration: 
  • Use these yoga warm-ups to imitate things kids are familiar with such as a tree and a pea.  
  • Finish with a seated position so kids are ready to listen to a story right after finishing.

More Ideas

For more ideas, check out previous entries from the TRC Training Hub on movement and songs and finger plays.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

More Summer Read-Alouds

Sounds too good to be true. Reading research has demonstrated that having fun doing new things makes you a better reader. Really. Going to the zoo, having a picnic, learning to swim or ride a bike, going to the county fair — they all make you a better reader. 

Everyone is talking about summer learning loss these days, but summertime can also allow for new life experiences and vocabulary that translate into learning gains. Long days and no school can mean more time for adventure and exploration. Summertime provides many kids with the opportunity to have new experiences, building their bank of knowledge and vocabulary, which, in turn, can strengthen their reading comprehension.

At The Reading Connection, we try to build on kids’ personal experiences, and provide some new ones, to build both motivation for reading and reading comprehension skills. Here are four more Read-Aloud outlines about common summer experiences for you to try with the kids at your site or in your life. 

Carnivals, fairs and amusement parks Read-Aloud
What do you think of when you hear “county fair” or “amusement park?” Thrilling rides? Sticky foods? Games of chance? How about crowds, bright lights and giant vegetables? Explore this summertime phenomenon at your Read-Aloud with books about roller coasters, fairs and contests, and then play some games of chance, learn about centripetal force or judge a contest.

Picnic Read-Aloud
Eating outside is fun. And risky. Do your Read-Aloud picnic-style, with a blanket and snacks. Outdoors, weather permitting. The books explore the ups and downs of picnicking and the activities bring picnics, and the books, to life.

Summer sports Read-Aloud
Do you remember learning to swim, ride a bike or play baseball? Read about all kinds of summer sports and then PLAY for a super sporty Read-Aloud!

Zoo and Aquarium Read-Aloud
Kids love wild animals. Explore the world of zoos or aquariums (the animals, the people who work there, and the visitors) at your Read-Aloud session. Learn about specific animals or endangered species. Then let the kids try their hands at feeding the animals or making their own aquarium.

Whether you are creating an experience for a child for the first time, or reinforcing an adventure they’ve had this summer, these summer Read-Alouds will be sure to please the kids and boost their knowledge at the same time.

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

Author Profile: Mo Willems

“Always think of your audience, never think for your audience.”

This week, we’re featuring an author who has been called a master of children’s literature: the brilliant, award-winning Mo Willems. Since receiving a Caldecott Medal Honor in 2004 for his now-classic picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Willems has written and illustrated over 40 books for children. 


His books are deceptively simple, as if any parent could have made them, but there is more than meets the eye behind the illustrations that Willems uses. They express the story clearly and allow the reader to focus more closely on the text. Instead of imitating life, he uses his illustrations to help create joy and magic in his stories.
Although his books appear to be written for a very young reader, he has said that he doesn’t write for a certain age because he wants to have as large an audience as possible. His clever humor and the way he writes about emotions like jealousy, sadness and joy make it easy for readers of any age to connect to his books, and parents especially will be able to relate. The tactics that the sly Pigeon uses to try to convince the reader to let him drive the bus, stay up late or get a puppy are strikingly familiar to anyone who has tried to bargain with a child.
The work of Willems could easily become a theme for a Read-Aloud. While his most famous picture book characters are Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny, he also created an extensive series of early readers focused around the relationship between Elephant and Piggie. These books can spark discussions about different situations and can help children learn to be more empathetic. There are also a number of craft and activity ideas to go along with these books that could be used at a Read-Aloud. 

At a recent Read-Aloud, a WMATA bus driver read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! to the children. The Pigeon books lend themselves to interaction, as the Pigeon speaks directly to the reader and asks to drive the bus. He tries to persuade the reader by saying he'll be their best friend or even give them five dollars if they let him drive the bus. The kids love to shout out “NOOOO!” when asked if they would let the Pigeon drive the bus!

Regardless of age, any reader will enjoy the vast array books by Mo Willems.

This post was written by The Reading Connection's intern Margaret Fogarty.

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