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 16, 2014

Freedom Summer

Try to see it from a kid’s point of view. School is NOT in session. The days are long, warm and sunny. There’s finally time for TV, video games, bike rides, swimming and theme parks. Summer feels like freedom to kids. 

Educators and years of research tell us that there’s a cost for that freedom: students falling behind. 

The stakes are high. According to the National Summer Learning Association “more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.”

So what can we do to let kids keep their freedom without the cost of summer learning loss?

Snappy headlines like Parents: Preventing Summer Slide (on a Budget) or 74 Creative Ways to Stop Summer Brain Drain seem to insist that we can easily do something to keep kids from falling behind. In reality we know it is not that easy, especially when reading may not be a favorite thing to do or kids just aren’t interested in the trip to the museum or keeping a journal. 

Start by finding out what kids really want to do this summer. So much advice for parents focuses on what parents would like to do with kids or what parents think kids should do during the summer months. Try not to let your nostalgia for camping interfere with your child’s desire to learn to code

Find out why reading is not a favorite activity. If kids are really miserable about reading, find out why. Talking honestly with kids might make them more passionate readers.

Drop your preconceptions of what reading is. Just because the school or library recommended reading list is filled with book titles, that doesn’t mean that a child who is thoroughly engaged instead by online news articles, magazines, comic books, recipes or even trading cards isn’t reading. Really talk to your kids about what they are reading — no matter what it is — and help them feel validated as readers even when their reading material of choice is not a book.

Read aloud. Again, it doesn’t have to be a book. Reading together offers many opportunities to talk, talk, talk about what you’ve read. If you aren’t comfortable reading aloud, try listening to an audio book together. And make sure that you are visibly doing your own reading. We can’t expect kids to see the value of reading if adults are modeling something different.

Let kids explore. That always sounds like such a great idea. Turn kids loose
and they will magically find things that interest them. If kids were good at exploring, you wouldn’t be hearing “I’m bored” so often. Check in with them about the things that seem energize them, like caring for a pet, a little karaoke or baking cookies with friends. Those are leads to explore further. You also have to show them what’s out there in the world — and not just the things you are interested in or what you think kids are interested in, but the real unknowns. Just because a young girl loves pink and coming up with new hairstyles for dolls, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t love to spend time looking at cells under a microscope.

Go to the library. Preserving kids’ freedom doesn’t preclude trips to the library. In fact, the library is actually kids’ greatest opportunity for choice. Local public libraries have books, audio books, magazines, newspapers, access to online resources, free Internet access, clubs, opportunities to read to dogs and more, including events and programs that encourage and reward reading. Check out: Arlington Public Library Summer Reading, Alexandria Library's SummerQuest,  SummerQuest Jr. and  "Spark a Reaction" Teen Reading Challenge. For a canine flair, try Arlington Public Library's "Paws to Read" program and Fairfax County Public Library “Paws to Read." DC Public Library has teamed up with the Washington Nationals to offer summer reading for readers of all ages.

Seek advice. If the long lists of parent ideas aren’t cutting it, a teacher or librarian would be happy to make suggestions for some summer learning fun. There are also Web-based resources that can guide you with reading recommendations and activity ideas that won’t have you spending half your summer at the craft store. Try Start with a Book for fun and meaningful interactions around books and things of kid interest. Sign up for Camp Wonderoplis and head online for exciting scientific explorations. Or pursue a reading challenge together with Scholastic, Barnes and Noble or BOOK IT!

Summer is important for learning, but it can be a different kind of education. It can be about learning to make choices, try new things, and finding and exploring new interests. Once kids realize there are no worksheets involved, they’ll see that books and reading were made for this kind of summer learning. They can linger in the barn with Charlotte and Wilbur, get inside the head of Albert Einstein or George Washington Carver, feel free to laugh louder at Captain Underpants, Walter the Farting Dog and Timmy Failure. They can have more chances to think more deeply about the world and their place in it.

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

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