TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Great Expectations

Reducing stress is a New Year’s resolution we can all get behind. Reducing stress and anxiety that kids may feel at a TRC Read-Aloud will make the experience more fun and engaging for everyone involved.

One way to cut down on stress is to focus on consistency. Knowing what to expect from day to day can reduce stress and anxiety. Take your morning routine for example. 
On days when you wake up refreshed, have your coffee, know where your keys are, hit green lights all the way and find a perfect parking space, you feel great. On days when you sleep through your alarm, discover you're out of coffee, can’t find your keys and learn the metro is delayed, you are thrown off for most of the morning and are likely in an unhappy mood.

Now put yourself in a TRC kid’s shoes. Their lives are very unpredictable and stressful. Kids have even less control over their days than adults do, and TRC kids encounter more stressful situations than the average kid. Who knows what their days are like before they get to you at the Read-Aloud?

So what can you do to mitigate their stress? You can provide stability and consistency. You can set up positive expectations and help kids fulfill them. Try these six easy steps:

Be Prepared!
Make a plan with your fellow volunteers. Come prepared to read, talk, do activities and have fun. Planning your Read-Aloud in advance not only makes for a better reading experience, it shows respect and understanding for the kids we serve. When you don’t prepare in advance, you let the kids down.

Use the Promises.
Show the promises and talk through them at the beginning of every Read-Aloud. If necessary, r
emind kids about them and enforce them during the Read-Aloud. That can mean helping a kid one on one, providing opportunities to turn a situation around, or sending a kid home from a Read-Aloud with the expressed hope that they’ll come back next week and be able to participate in a positive way.

Keep to the TRC Read-Aloud format.
If every team does basically the same thing in the same order every time, the kids will be more calm and better able to participate self-sufficiently. Greet kids, do name tags, review promises, read as a big group, read in small groups, do the activity, choose books, go home.

If you are going to change the format, tell the kids at the beginning of the Read-Aloud. Explain to them how the evening will go. For example, if you are doing a craft using glue or paint that needs time to dry between steps and want to do the activity first, tell the kids. “Today we’re reading all about sail boats. We’re going to make a sail boat first so it will have time to dry while we read. Tonight will go like this: Promises, glue boats, read in big group, read in little groups, paint boats and then choose books.”

Feed the kids. 
Research has demonstrated that hunger affects a kid’s ability to learn:

“When students experience poor nutrition…it is harder for them to listen, concentrate and learn…Poor diets also affect behavior. Students can often appear listless (with low energy) or hyperactive (on a sugar high).”
 How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement by Eric Jensen in Educational Leadership, May 2013

If the kids at your Read-Aloud haven’t been fed dinner or given a snack by an after-school program right before the Read-Aloud, give them a healthy snack at the beginning of the Read-Aloud, if allowed by the site. We’ve had success doing this during the large group reading at the beginning of a session. A snack settles the kids down and provides some calories to quiet rumbling tummies and fuel learning.

Model positive behavior.
You need to walk the talk. You need to be the change you want to see in the kids. That means being patient, calm, respectful, accommodating, understanding, consistent and humorous. The Promises apply to you too.

Have positive expectations and make them known. 
Kids are smart and perceptive. How you see them and expect them to behave (as smart, creative, enthusiastic readers or not) will filter through to them. 

Help the kids buy into expectations by involving them in creating site-specific behavioral expectations. You can do this at your Read-Aloud by extending a discussion of the TRC Promises. At Sullivan House recently, this discussion happened naturally and the kids came up with their own expectations that more fully described what the Promises mean to them.

Here's an outline for a Read-Aloud about expectations, behavior and consequences. Try it out with the kids at your site!

Knowing what to expect from an experience and what others expect from them creates an environment where kids can participate fully and exercise their independence in a constructive way. By reducing stress for the kids, you are setting them up to succeed. And that's a great expectation.

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