TRC Read to Kids

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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.

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