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 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  • shaken self-concept: he may become withdrawn or look for a role in a group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.