TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Race and reading: developing personal relationships

When is a name tag not just a name tag? When it helps TRC kids and volunteers develop personal relationships even though they are divided by race and social groups. Knowing and using someone's name is a powerful affirmation of his or her value.  

TRC recently conducted a volunteer seminar focusing on racial identity development and TRC programs. In it we explored several aspects of race and mainstream culture and how they affect our Read-Alouds. With issues of race and racially-rooted conflict in the news, and recognizing that the majority of the children and parents we serve are people of color and the majority of our volunteers are white, it was a timely topic.

Currently our Read-Aloud volunteer corps is made up of 86% Caucasians, 5% African Americans, 3% Asians, 3% Hispanics and 3% mixed race individuals. Our current Read-Aloud partners report having 0 to 30% Caucasian clients. Because we have long recognized the importance of having a diverse group of volunteers, TRC actively seeks to increase the number of people of color in our volunteer pool. 

TRC Read-Alouds provide opportunities for the kids we serve to have positive, supportive experiences with caring adults who are, based on our current corps of volunteers, most likely white. It's a chance to have frequent personal experiences with adults that may counter the negativity of mainstream culture toward people of color. Based on recommendations from Marty Swaim of and Cheryl Robinson and James Sample of Arlington Public Schools, we examined three factors volunteers could control to ensure all TRC kids feel welcome, valued and engaged.  

Factor 1:  Personal relationships 
Build relationships with the kids and let them know you are interested in them and respect them as individuals. Show them you value them, their culture and their race. When you do this, you model a relationship built on communication, not on cues based on exterior appearance. As you get to know each kid and each kid gets to know you, you help the child bank positive experiences that build strong and healthy self-images.

How do you build relationships at a Read-Aloud?

Come prepared and arrive early to set up. You'll be showing the kids you've planned a special Read-Aloud for them and are excited to see them.

Welcome participants by name and use name tags. Using kids' names shows respect and interest in them as individuals.

Do a group welcoming, team building or settling activity. You'll be easing the transition into Read-Aloud time and building a sense of community.

Create a balance between volunteer control and kid choices. Provide both choice and reasonable boundaries.

Providing clear boundaries and as many opportunities as possible for the kids to call the shots helps balance the adult/kid power imbalance and demonstrates your regard for the kids.
  • Use TRC's Promises to set expectations for behavior during the Read-Aloud and follow up if kids need reminding. You'll be showing the kids that you see them as responsible and capable and that you will ensure their time with you is safe and enjoyable.
  • Let the kids choose books they want to read with you in small groups. An adult has already chosen the book to read to the group as a whole. Letting kids choose what to read next balances out the power dynamic.
  • Provide open-ended activities that foster creativity and individual expression. You'll get to know each kid better and each kid can enjoy being herself.
  • Take time to talk with the kids and answer their questions as they choose books to take home. Don't choose books for them.

Make eye contact. Like using someone's name, making eye contact creates a connection between you and the child.

Sit down on their level. Be one of the group instead of towering over the kids.

Have conversations with the kids
  • Share information about yourself. When you do this, you create opportunities to connect with the kids.
  • Encourage kids to share their ideas and feelings.
  • LISTEN to what they have to say. You'll gain insight into their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

When you have a genuine conversation with a kid, you get to know him as an individual and he gets to know you, too. These relationships can go a long way in helping build understanding and positive experiences across racial or social lines.

You've probably noticed that all the strategies recommended are ones that TRC has encouraged you to do at your Read-Alouds already. We want volunteers to use name tags and TRC Promises and to come prepared to help the Read-Alouds go smoothly and be enjoyable. We include conversation and choice because those are important factors in reading development and motivation. It turns out they also help kids build positive racial identities and are components of culturally competent Read-Alouds.

TRC will provide more posts on this topic, exploring two more factors that volunteers can control to ensure every Read-Aloud is culturally competent.

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

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