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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Race and Reading: The Read-Aloud Environment

Imagine yourself in your favorite place: a place that makes you feel happy, relaxed, comfortable, valued. In that space you can be you and can find the personal resources to take risks, stretch yourself and grow. Now imagine a place where you are uncomfortable, stressed, sad or treated as lacking or inferior. That’s a place you don’t want to be, a place where you feel guarded, scared and disrespected. 

TRC wants our Read-Alouds to take happen in the former, happy, welcoming space. As we mentioned in our last race and reading post, the majority of the kids and families TRC serves are people of color, while the majority of our volunteers (and people living in the DC Metro area) are white. We believe it is important to acknowledge and respond to the impact race has in our community and in our programming. To that end, we've been examining ways to make sure our programs are inclusive and welcoming.

In June, we posted about race and reading, examining the first of three factors Marty Swaim of and Cheryl Robinson and James Sample of Arlington Public Schools identified as ways our volunteers could ensure all TRC kids feel welcome, valued and engaged. That post explored personal relationships.  In this post we’ll examine the second factor: the Read-Aloud environment

In 1943, Abraham Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs necessary for motivation. First, people need to have their physical needs met. After that, people need to feel safe and like they belong. Then they need to feel esteem. When those needs are met, people are free to grow and learn. 

If, on the other hand, you are in an environment that is unwelcoming or hostile, even in a subliminal way, it is more difficult to learn and grow. By being visibly different from the majority of people in our area, and certainly different from our volunteers, kids may feel uncomfortable at Read-Alouds unless we pay attention to how we set up and run them.

TRC volunteers can do a number of things to create a welcoming and engaging environment that meets our kids' needs. 

How do you create such an environment?

Manage your space.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early to set up the space.
  • Move tables and chairs around (if allowed and appropriate) to make the space inviting and conducive to large and small group reading. If your site uses a rug or carpet squares, set those up as well. Fold up tables for the reading portion of the evening if necessary.
  • Display books you are going to use for the Read-Aloud in an attractive way to set the stage, get kids excited and designate this time and space as special for reading.
  • Use TRC table toppers showing kids reading and inviting kids to read in several languages. (These table toppers are available from the TRC office and can be kept with the TRC binder at your site.)

By creating a comfortable place for the kids to sit and move around and by displaying high-quality, interesting books and welcoming signage, volunteers will be addressing Maslow’s physical needs and belonging and esteem.

Keep the environment positive and productive.

  • Use name tags, call kids by name and make eye contact. These simple steps help you connect with the kids and meets their belonging and esteem needs.
  • Use the TRC promises—remind kids about them and then follow up if need be. Setting reasonable boundaries and giving the kids choices helps them feel safe and independent, again meeting their safety and esteem needs.
  • Feed the kids a snackif allowed and needed. Being hungry will distract the kids from the reading experience.
  • Incorporate movement and choice. You’ll be meeting kids’ physical and esteem needs and making the Read-Aloud more fun.
  • Use volunteers and space strategically to meet specific kids’ needs. If a kid needs one-on-one attention, designate a volunteer to read and do the activity with that child. If some kids don’t get along, separate them with different volunteers. If the ages of your kids vary widely, use your volunteers strategically to break into small groups and read books that meet their interest and attention spans.
  • Use encouraging language and be honest. Support and honor the kids’ efforts. Be genuine and specific. “I like your drawing of the tree because it is so green!” is better than “That is nice.”
By keeping the environment positive and productive, you meet the kids physical, safety and esteem needs. You show that you respect and care about them as individuals. You also build a sense of belonging to a group of readers that values and enjoys each others' ideas and company.

Manage the book give-away process. 
  • Select a variety of books and spread them out on the table so that kids can easily see them. 
  • During the activity, send no more than two kids at a time to the table, which is staffed by a volunteer, to choose their books.
  • The volunteer staffing the table should encourage the kids to take their time, talk with them about the books available and what they like to read, giving them time to reflect on what the might like to read.
  • Respect the child’s choice.
If you would like to review how to help a child choose a book, check out our blog post "The Power of Choice".

When the book selection process is calm and organized, the kids can make a relaxed and thoughtful choice. That is self-actualization, in Maslow's terms, as a reader!

As you may have noticed in the last post about race and reading, many of the ideas we include here are strategies we've talked about before. We encourage our volunteers to arrange the room, deploy themselves strategically, use name tags and manage the book give-away process because those things make for an effective Read-Aloud. It turns out they also demonstrate to the families we serve that we respect and value them. 

In our next post about reading and race, we'll explore the third factor that volunteers can control at their Read-Alouds to ensure they are culturally competent: the materials and content.

Reflect on how you would use this information at your Read-Alouds by filling out this form.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

We Are Readers Summer 2015

We Are Readers successfully concluded its summer programming at the end of July, and it proved to be an exciting six weeks! Each summer, The Reading Connection (TRC) operates the We Are Readers program, with two Read-Alouds per week instead of one, as a way to ensure continued learning when school is out. All kids are at risk of losing reading skills over the summer, but at-risk kids often experience bigger losses. With double the number of Read-Alouds per week as during the school year, TRC's We Are Readers program provides a fun and enriching six weeks designed to keep kids learning and reading for fun over the summer.

Here’s a snapshot of our success.

Introducing We Are Readers kits!

One of the new elements of the program this year was We Are Readers kits. Since one of the weekly Read-Alouds at each site was conducted by new volunteers, TRC planned these Read-Alouds, providing the theme and supplies. The new volunteer teams received kits packed full of books, an interactive activity related to the week’s theme and a snack so that they could hit the ground running. 

An example of the camping kit is shown below. And check out one of the kids making shadow puppets, per the kit's directions, for the first time ever!

The other We Are Readers kits provided to volunteers were on the themes of dinosaurs, nocturnal animals, the beach, airplanes and building.

Welcoming new volunteers

For the first time, TRC recruited teams of new volunteers to conduct the additional Read-Alouds at each site. These new volunteers enthusiastically dove in to make We Are Readers a huge success. Forty new volunteers joined us for We Are Readers and 13 year-round volunteers participated in the program. Also, 98 year-round volunteers attended regular Read-Alouds during these six weeks at the program sites.

Infusing a beach feel for the summer

The theme of We Are Readers this summer was the beach. The kids got to add festive paper shapes like dolphins and seahorses on a giant poster of the beach (shown to the right) to track their attendance. This incentive to get kids to participate was backed by prizes whenever the group reached a goal. Prizes included Popsicles, toys, pencils and cookies. 

As always, each kid could choose a book to keep at the end of each Read-Aloud, which meant that participating kids got two books per week over the summer instead of one. Throughout the summer, we gave away over 550 books!

We Are Readers also provided bingo cards that the kids could mark after accomplishing different activities, like reading instead of watching TV or reading with a friend. When they got bingo, the kids got to put an extra shape on the poster, moving the group toward the next goal and prize.

Including special guests at sites

To ramp up fun and excitement, we brought special guests to the We Are Readers sites. Because TRC’s program structure focuses heavily on increasing background knowledge as a means of building vocabulary and comprehension, these special guests were the perfect addition to the program, bringing knowledge of their occupations or hobbies. Check out the summer’s special guests:

ALIVE House! was visited by Alexandria City Firefighters

ARHA had the pleasure of welcoming Blues musician Chet Chandler to perform and introduce the kids to the Blues. Also, Alexandria police officers taught the kids about life in the police force.

Paws To Read, an Arlington Country Library program that allows kids to read to the non-judgmental audience of a dog, visited Columbia Grove. Reading to dogs in a fun and safe environment empowers and excites kids, which was certainly the case at Columbia Grove!

At Greentree Shelter, the kids got a fun treat — an inside peek into what it's like to be a zookeeper at the National Zoo. Becky Malinsky (pictured below) taught the kids about taking care of the animals and what her experience has been like as a National Zoo zookeeper. The kids even got to try preparing and eating food that she gives to the animals!

Sullivan House was also visited by Paws To Read. The kids all enjoyed reading to the dogs in small groups. The kids also got to take a field trip to Arlington County Fire Station 4. While there, they got a tour of the station and the fire trucks, and the firefighters spoke with them about fire safety and life as a firefighter. The kids were very enthusiastic about this visit, including the books that the firefighters read to them, pictured below.

More Read-Alouds with a variety of themes

In addition to the weekly Read-Alouds conducted by new volunteers using the We Are Readers kits, seasoned TRC volunteers continued to conduct Read-Alouds at every We Are Readers site, giving kids the opportunity to attend two TRC days per week! The regular Read-Aloud volunteers prepared their own themes. The topics they covered this summer included:

  • ALIVE! House: Fish, Fourth of July, Fireflies, Imagination, Exploring
  • ARHA Ruby Tucker Center: Poetry, The Blues, The Future, Deserts, Birthdays
  • Columbia Grove: Bees and Honey, Dr. Seuss, Bugs, Weather, Paws to Read, Picnics
  • Greentree Shelter: Birds, Dogs, Zoos, Telling Time, Games and Sports
  • Sullivan House: Trains, Paws to Read, Sharks, Flying, Firefighters

Throughout the course of We Are Readers, the kids displayed enthusiasm and motivation. In addition to all the extra time spent reading and the increased book ownership, we consider the kids' excitement to be one of the program's biggest successes!

This post was written by Rachel Fishman, TRC's AmeriCorps VISTA dedicated to the We Are Readers Program.