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 25, 2013

2013 Of Wine & Words
Come help us celebrate another great year at TRC at the ninth annual Of Wine & Words. Each year, we gather our supporters and friends to celebrate children’s literature and TRC’s accomplishments. Food from favorite local restaurants, wine from a local wine shop and beer from a Virginia brewery make this a delicious and festive occasion. A silent auction offers treats for yourself, outings around town and perfect gifts for the children in your life.

Join us on Friday, March 8, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the Boeing Conference Center in Rosslyn, VA. The VIP reception begins at 6:30 p.m. The night will include an appearance by our Chef Chair, Adam Barnett, Executive Chef of Eventide Restaurant and our Literacy Honoree, Henry Cole. The emcee for the evening is Doreen Gentzler from the NBC4 News.

Henry Cole is a celebrated children’s book author and illustrator, with over 50 books to his credit. A native Virginian, Henry taught science for 16 years at a northern Virginia school before becoming a full-time artist and author. His books run the gamut from hilarious (Chicken Butt!) to challengingly thought-provoking (Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad).  

Henry Cole
Wine tasting will be provided by The Curious Grape from Arlington, VA. Lost Rhino Brewery from Ashburn, VA will offer beer tasting. All attendees will receive a TRC tasting glass to use and keep as a souvenir. Food will be provided by Artisan Confections, Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, Eventide Restaurant, Green Pig Bistro, Lebanese Taverna, Lincoln, The Liberty Tavern.

We hope you’ll come enjoy this evening with us. Tickets for volunteers are deeply discounted at $35 each. Volunteers can get two tickets at this price.  Tickets can be purchased online here. See you there!

Monday, February 18, 2013

I don't get it

The Dalai Lama walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, "Make me one with everything."

I smiled broadly when I first heard this joke in college but only because everyone around me was chuckling. Really, I didn’t get it. I had only a vague idea of who the Dalai Lama was and didn’t connect the “one with everything” with Buddhism—which I knew nothing about.

You need a frame of reference to connect to new and existing information. And that comes from the things that you are exposed to. To me, “one with everything” was a hot dog with all the fixings (including cole slaw). To a Buddhist, becoming “one with everything” (or moving past a sense of individual identity), is a spiritual goal.

Growing up in southern West Virginia, I wasn’t exposed to Buddhism through my family, culture, surroundings, or schooling, so a spiritual leader ordering a hot dog with the works was funny only because a hot dog seems far from divine and the guy ordering it is wearing a robe.

Kids naturally have limited knowledge about the world. They have had fewer experiences. But with fewer experiences to draw on, making connections and learning from what they read is challenging.

The good news is that knowledge brings more knowledge and improves thinking. And the sooner kids start to build that store of knowledge, the better. Interesting experiences, reading and sharing books are great for building knowledge. 

Start with pre-reading activities that introduce unfamiliar concepts or vocabulary. You might show photographs, bring in props or costumes, play music, or do some role playing.

When you’re ready to pick up a book to activate and expand their knowledge, try these tips:

  • Read the title, show the cover and ask kids to tell you what they think the book is about. 
  • Talk about what kind of story it is—a fable, historical fiction, tall tale, nonfiction, poetry—so listeners know what to expect
  • Give kids ideas about where to focus their attention. They will be excited when they recognize things you’ve asked them to look for or make a connection to a pre-reading activity. 
  • Talk about the author to help kids recognize how authors may bring specific themes or characters to different books.
  • Think aloud when you are reading to share your own experiences and connections to the story and encourage kids to do the same.
  • Talk about what the story is about and ask kids to tell you what it personally reminds them of.

Remember that the experiences and culture of others may be very different from your own. In order to help kids make stronger connections, you may want to build your own knowledge of the foods, historical figures, musical traditions and geography of other countries and cultures. 

Apparently the Dalai Lama himself had the same problem with a different version of the joke that an Australian reporter tried on him in 2011, “So the Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop, and says, ‘can you make me one with everything?’”

Rachael with 
Dr. Seuss' Horton
The Dalai Lama didn’t get it. He’d had no experience with pizza shops.  

Guest blog post by TRC Advisory Council member and Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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

Monday, February 11, 2013

Focus on the process, not the product

“All young children are great artists. The importance of their art is in the act of creating with confidence and in using their imaginations. It is our sacred trust not to take away this gift from our children, but to encourage and nurture it at every opportunity.” ~ Susan Striker, creator of the Anti-Coloring Books.
All too often when planning art activities for kids, we focus on the finished product and forget to leave room for kids' individuality in their creations. Providing a model for an activity is a good idea because it provides guidance, but it is always best to encourage the children to follow their whims. Some kids will take just a few minutes to add just a bit to what you give them. Others will add and add and add more and more materials. Some of the difference is a matter of age. Some kids just love to manipulate craft materials and use their fine-motor skills. 

We believe open-ended projects help build children's confidence in their skills and their individuality. It is important to praise equally those children who make elaborate extensions to the activity AND those who seem to engage only briefly. Who knows what elaborate extensions may be being built in the second child's imagination?

Open-ended activities work well for Read-Alouds because they are easily adaptable to wide age ranges. A four-year-old will enjoy these projects as much as an 11-year-old, but will likely produce a less ambitious product and spend less time at it. At a recent Read-Aloud at Next Steps Housing, the volunteers read Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews and gave each child dots with which to create an image of their choice. All of the kids, ranging from four to fourteen years old were thoroughly engaged in their creations and loved the freedom of the activity. 

Here are some open-ended ideas that could be adapted to fit a variety of themes.

From ID Mommy blog.
Collage.  Save or collect old magazines, catalogues and newspaper pages. Cut out pictures, paste them together on a sheet of construction paper to make a collage. Kids can create their favorite meal, if reading about food, or their ideal vacation spot, if talking about travel. Libraries often have old magazines for sale for $.25 each. You can also include nonpaper materials. For example, beans and rice, add so much to this farm scene.

Paper cutting. The classic example of paper cutting is making paper snowflakes. Show children how to fold the paper and where to cut so the finished product does not fall apart. Then give them the freedom to create snowflakes in different shapes and colors. Copy paper, tissue paper and coffee filters are great for this activity. 

Papel Picado is another great example of paper cutting. It's a traditional Mexican decoration that is easily adapted for kids. Fold colored tissue paper much like you would for a paper snowflake and cut out designs. These are often strung together to make colorful banners.

Clay and other manipulatives. Give each child some clay, play dough or pipe cleanesr and let her to create something related to what you've been reading. A team at Virginia Gardens last year let the kids create dinosaurs out of pipe cleaners. The kids were so proud of their creations. Have a look here:

Creating a scene. Provide each child with a piece of heavier stock paper as the base and a variety of materials to create a scene based on your theme. If creating a winter scene, provide cotton balls, glitter, pine needles, colored construction paper and stickers and let the kids create winter vistas.

When doing open-ended crafts, there is no "right" or "wrong" result, and it is finished when the child decides it is finished. The focus should be on the process of creating, not necessarily the end product. To spark conversation, ask each child to tell you about his art and what he used to create it. Let each child's personality and skills shine through their art.

For more ideas for open-ended crafts, read this pamphlet by

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

Z is for Moose? Yup. Read it and laugh.

Today's book feature is Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky.

Z is for moose? Really? How could that be? A zany moose? A zippy moose? A moose from the Zurich Zoo?  What kind of ABC book is this?

It’s a hilarious ABC book. And well worth reading aloud to group of kids. It’ll work for preschoolers through 10- to 12-year-olds because of its clever design, engaging illustrations and tongue-in-cheek story.

Here’s the set up:  It is Zebra’s job to keep everybody in order to end up on the correct page of this ABC book. But Moose is very excited and struggles to wait his turn. When “M” comes around, and things don’t go the way he expects them to, Moose goes berserk. What will Zebra do? Will Moose calm down? What will happen to the ABC book?

Most of the text follows standard ABC book format, “A is for Apple,” but speech bubbles add drama and humor. Zelinsky’s illustrations tell much of the story, too. If you pay attention to the details, you’ll get so much more of the story. 

As you are reading this book aloud, be sure to give the kids plenty of opportunity to carefully examine the pictures. Encourage the kids to predict which item will depict the letter that comes next, or what Moose or Zebra will do next. Ask them how Moose, Zebra or the other ABC characters feel about what is going on. Pause before the end and brainstorm ways that Zebra can resolve the problem.

This book would work well with other unusual ABC books like The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger or The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg or with unconventional books about books like Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein or The Three Pigs by David Wiesner.

On a more emotional level, Moose’s melt down finds a great parallel in Pigeon’s tantrum in Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. And the resolution of the story invites a discussion about the nature of friendship that brings to mind Willem’s Piggy and Elephant books or Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad.

Or you could just have fun with it. It’s that kind of book.

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