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, 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.