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, June 24, 2013

Online resources for summer fun

Do you find yourself always telling your children to get off of the computer? Instead of doing that this summer, go on the computer with them. Here are a few fun, engaging websites that contain educational games, activities, recipes and more that can be done on- and offline.

The website Start with a Book is, coincidentally, a great place to look for summer reading ideas. It provides you with a theme, like bugs, dinosaurs, tall tales, or music, and gives you related books and activities. It's a great resource for Read-Alouds or for an afternoon at home!

Have you ever wondered why donuts have holes? How about why mosquito bites itch? You can find the answers at Wonderopolis, a free, interactive website that features one “wonder” each day, with an archive of hundreds available to look up. Each wonder contains a story, a video and a jumping off point for more exploration. This could be a fun site to make a habit of visiting and discussing –- it could be once a week, or even once a day!

Hosted by Disney Channel, Pass the Plate offers recipes from around the world and information about the unique foods used in the recipes. Some of the recipes are simple enough that they could easily be made at a Read-Aloud. Why not take a recipe from the site once a month, gather the kids in your life and prepare it? The site also provides useful information about the recipe's country of origin, a seamless way to expand knowlege about world geography and culture. 

Can't make it to the museum? Take a cyber field trip! The National Gallery of Art's website lets kids view and create their own art. National Geographic Kids lets kids encounter wild animals and go globe trotting, all without leaving home. The Smithsonian website's kids' section allows you to visit and explore its collections -- history, science, art, animals, and much more!  You can even explore the Louvre through short animated stories.

Another great website to check out for interactive activities is the Marvel Kids Comic Creator. It gives children the chance to create their own comic strips using a vast array of Marvel images and characters. The resulting comics could be hung up around the house or even made into a book. This website allows creative kids to learn about storytelling and art while being entertained.

The website iWASwondering provides biographies of female scientists, inspired by a book series, Women’s Adventures in Science. It also features games and a place for kids to ask questions about science. It’s a great place for girls and boys alike to explore influential women with different careers in science, and could be a starting point for more reading and research.

There are endless options to check out online for summer reading and activity inspiration.  This list is a great place to start!

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

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Now boarding on platform 9 3/4...

Have you ever used a manual typewriter? Have you ever seen a tumbleweed or a coal chute? If you haven’t, it would be hard to understand some of our favorite Read-Aloud books:  Click Clack Moo:  Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Tumbleweed Stew by Susan Stevens Crummel.

To help kids get the most out of books you are reading aloud with them, it’s a good idea to read through the books, looking for words or situations with which the kids might be unfamiliar. Sometimes words or concepts will be unfamiliar because they are old fashioned—like manual typewriters or coal chutes. Sometimes geography (take tumbleweeds for instance) or simply opportunity will be the factor preventing understanding. 

This kind of broad vocabulary and life experience is called background knowledge, and it is crucial to reading comprehension. It is your job, as an experienced person and reader, to look for stumbling blocks to understanding in the books you've chosen, and think of ways to remove those blocks for the kids. Here’s an example:

King's Cross Station
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is supposed to take a train to his new school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He instructed to go to King’s Cross train station where the Hogwarts Express, his train, will be waiting at Platform 9 ¾. If you've never ridden on a train, like an AMTRAK train, the idea of a platform for a train might not make any sense. After all, a platform can be a stage or a shoe or a political thing, too. And the fanciful idea that there could be a train platform 9 ¾ would be lost on the kids.  How can there be a 3/4ths kind of place?

If you were reading that passage to the kids, you’d need to stop and talk about train stations and platforms. You could ask “What is a platform?”  “How do you think Harry will find his train?” It might even help to have some pictures to show the kids. (Google Images is your friend.) 

In addition to explaining what a word means, it also helps to make a connection between the new word or idea and the kids’ experience. For example, you could say, “Have you ever ridden on the metro or on a subway? The place where you stand and wait to get on the train is the platform.” And then you could talk about how they might have figured out which train to take when they were standing on the platform. That kind of connection helps kids apply their new vocabulary word or experience not only to the current story you are reading with them, but also in other situations in their lives.

Sometimes when you are reading with kids, you'll stumble upon words or ideas they are unfamiliar with and you just need to take a minute to explore and explain. But it would be even better if you had a chance to prepare in advance, so take a minute when you are looking over books to read with kids and think about, not just how you might read it to them, but also how you can build their background knowledge.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Read-Aloud outlines

It's summertime! The temperatures are heating up and kids are antsy for summer vacation to arrive. Kids think about freedom from the classroom and time to spend outdoors and with friends. Adults think of ways to entertain their kids and how to prevent them from losing everything they learned during the school year.

We think about that a lot at The Reading Connection too. Studies have shown that kids can lose two to three months of math and reading skills and at-risk kids, like the ones who come to Read-Alouds, can lose even more. These studies have shown that two of the biggest factors in preventing summer learning loss are enriching experiences and time spent reading. Read-Alouds present an opportunity to achieve both.

Our volunteer seminar on June 3 presented ways to teach kids new concepts and vocabulary in the context of a Read-Aloud. We showed ways to bring real-world experiences into your Read-Alouds by making your activity a hands-on experience. We'll be sharing these ideas with you over the next couple of blog posts and throughout the summer.

At the seminar, we presented six Read-Alouds that focus on typical summer experiences that kids at Read-Aloud sites might not get to have because of their current economic or living situations. But, have no fear, the kids will still get to experience camping and air travel. You'll be the ones bringing it to them through at Read-Aloud! 

Click on the following Read-Aloud titles for an outline with books, activities and conversation starters.

Camping Read-Aloud - Set up a tent and read inside. Make a pretend campfire, read by flashlight and then tell ghost stories or sing camp songs. Make s'mores in the microwave.

Air travel Read-Aloud - Make the whole Read-Aloud an air travel adventure. Set carpet squares or chairs in rows like airplane seats. Give kids boarding passes, check them in and make them clear security before reading.

Museum Read-Aloud - Create your own museum of the kid's art and let the kids be the museum docent. Imagine you come from the future and think about how you'd interpret everyday items.

Rainy day Read-Aloud - If it's too wet to play outside, how can we entertain ourselves indoors? Think about forts and old fashioned games like pick-up-sticks, while reading The Cat in the Hat and Jumanji.

Beach Read-Aloud - Lay out beach towels instead of carpet squares and engage all the senses with items you might find at the beach.

Extreme weather Read-Aloud - We've already experienced tornadoes and hurricanes this summer. Read about how they're formed and what kind of damage they can do then make your own tornado with water bottles or a hurricane out of cotton balls.

We encourage you to use these Read-Alouds with the kids at your site. With the planning mostly done, your team can focus on implementation, and the kids will love the hands-on activities and will hopefully learn something new in the process. We'll be posting more Read-Aloud outlines later in the summer for you to use, so stay tuned.

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

Asking open-ended questions

Conversations are all about give and take. One person asks and the other person answers. What is it about our questions and answers that causes some conversations to continue forever and causes others to stop dead in their tracks? The answer is largely the difference between open- and closed-ended questions. For example:

Adult: Did you do anything fun at school today?
Child: No.
Conversation over.

Adult: What did you do at recess today?
Child: I played on the monkey bars with Amelia and then we played tag with some of the other kids.
Now there are a lot of follow-up questions and different directions you could take this conversation.

The difference between the questions is that the first was a closed-ended question and the second was open-ended. The difference lies in the way a question can be answered. Closed-ended questions can usually be answered with one or two words while open-ended questions require some elaboration. Sometimes, you can follow a closed-ended question with an open-ended one to keep the conversation going.

Adult: Which animal at the zoo is your favorite?
Child: The white tiger.
Adult: What is it about the white tiger that makes it special to you?
Child: I like that he's white and not like the rest of the tigers. Also it reminds me of Aladdin and I like his exhibit.

The beauty of open-ended questions is that they engage kids' thought processes, vocabulary and cognitive skills. They are great in personal conversations, but also fit perfectly into a discussion about a book. When open-ended questions are used with books, they encourage kids to use their imagination to extrapolate what's not shown and help them to understand different viewpoints. 

Some great open-ended questions to use in reading are

  • What do you think this book is going to be about?
  • What makes you think that?
  • Why do you think he did that?
  • How do you think that makes her feel?
  • How would you feel if that happened to you?
  • What would happen if this happened in real life?

For more information about open-ended questions, check out Stories and Children and a great list from Georgia's Department of Early Care and Learning. Also be sure to check out our post about talking with kids.

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