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, December 12, 2016

At your fingertips: Abundant Read-Aloud themes

As a Reading Connection volunteer, you know how important it is to come to your Read-Aloud prepared. Having a great theme, a variety of good books, an engaging activity, talking points, and sometimes a tasty snack, can make all the difference between a rollicking good time and a stressful evening.

All that planning takes time, though, especially if you are starting from scratch. But there's no need to make it hard on yourself. TRC has dozens of Read-Alouds, planned out, in detail, waiting for you.

Volunteer Central
TRC’s volunteer database, Volunteer Central, contains a bank of themes collected from your Read-Alouds and Reading Road Maps compiled over the past several years. 

To search for a theme for your next Read-Aloud,

  • Log in to Volunteer Central.
  • Click the "Find Ideas for an Upcoming Read-Aloud" button on the upper right, or select “Read-Aloud Themes List” from the Read-Alouds menu at the top of your screen. The right-hand column of the table indicates if the themes have a Reading Road Map. To only show themes that have a Reading Road Map, click the "Reading Road Map Included?" column header.
  • Click on a theme. You'll find a list of the books read and activities done at any Read-Aloud that used this theme. A purple Reading Road Map link next to the theme name will take you to a printable PDF of the Reading Road Map.

You can also search recent Read-Alouds that have been held at your site or at other sites by

  • Selecting "Recent Read-Alouds" in the Read-Aloud menu. The system will default to show only your site, but you can select all sites to see themes from other sites. 
  • Selecting the date will bring you to the report summary of that Read-Aloud.
  • Selecting the theme will take you to a compilation of books and activities used with that theme.

Reading Road Maps
In addition to being stored on Volunteer Central, Reading Road Maps come right to your email every other month.  TRC sends Reading Road Maps to all of our volunteers. 

If you don't always keep the Reading Road Map emails, another way to find Reading Road Maps in Volunteer Central is to sort the themes so that the ones with Reading Road Maps show up first.  If you haven't been receiving the Reading Road Maps, check your spam folder or your Promotions tab, if you use Gmail. 

TRC's Blog
TRC's blog -- yes, the one you are reading right now -- also has lots of Read-Aloud themes and outlines. You can sign up to get it delivered to your email. Just put your email in the field labeled, in purple, "Follow by E-mail" on the right side of the page.

For posts specifically about planning, search for Read-Aloud reports or Read-Aloud themes.  Two Summer Reading posts (this one and this one) also have links to outlines. You can click on the theme (picnics, for example) and it will take you to an outline.

If you have a theme, but need activities, movement ideas, crafts, or ideas about how to best engage preschoolers or older kids, you can search the blog for helpful posts.

Outside Resources

Finally, other organizations and blogs produce themed readings outlines. Start With a Book is one of our favorites, and it happens to be based out of WETA, the PBS station in Arlington. Also available through WETA's Reading Rockets website are Reading Adventure Packs, which also have a list of fiction and nonfiction books related to a theme, and activities.

WorldCat is an international library database that lets you search for books, read reviews, preview contents, and see themed recommended book lists that others (including TRC) have created. If you are looking for books to beef up your Read-Aloud choices, you can even find links to similar books and related subjects. And the best thing about WorldCat is that you can see which library near you has the books you want.

Don't stress
The next time you have a Read-Aloud to plan, remember, we've already done the work for you. Check out Volunteer Central, your email, or Reading Rockets' Start with A Book or Reading Adventure Packs for fully planned Read-Alouds. Gather the books and materials listed on the outline, Reading Road Map, or Read-Aloud report and get ready for a rollicking good time!

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

Read-Aloud Report: 1, 2, 3, Read with me!

Thanks to Kristin Stadum, a long-time Read-Aloud volunteer at Freedom Place, for this Read-Aloud report.  TRC spotlights Read-Alouds that successfully build reading skills and motivation while also being fun for kids and volunteers. These Read-Aloud reports act as a resource for other volunteers and provide examples for the public of our program.

I can't remember what I had originally intended for the theme for the night, but it certainly wasn't numbers. I thought numbers would be too dry, too staid, too nerdy by far! But when I was at the library, great titles kept jumping off the shelves.

"Well, here goes nothing," I thought and settled on numbers as the theme.

As the kids picked up their name tags, we had them guess the number of blueberries in one jar and cherries in another. Later, these would form part of the night's snack.
An example of a book box for
Zin, Zin, Zin A Violin
contains sheet music, rosin, a violin
string and other related items.

We introduced the topic with a book box (an idea from the a TRC volunteer seminar on the brain). Before presenting the books, we pulled items related to numbers out of a box and passed them around the room, giving the kids a chance to guess the nature of our theme. An abacus was quickly followed by a ruler, calculator, phone, playing card, dominoes, dice, and foreign coins.

Each kid held onto a multicolored, multi-sided dice (each one unique) and/or a foreign coin as the evening progressed. While the items didn't exactly keep them from fidgeting, they helped keep the focus on numbers while we read books like 100 Things That Make Me Happy, 17 Things I Am Not Allowed to Do Anymore, and The Three Little Pigs.

Here's a list of the books we used:
We brought a lot of books to be sure there was something that appealed to everyone. A few books were read to the whole group, while others were read to multiple small groups. Some didn't get read at all.

After reading, we revealed how many berries and cherries each jar contained and divvied them up as part of our snack. Then we played a clapping game* focused on numbers (which failed miserably but centered the kids) and donned pedometers to see who could get the most steps by the time that a song (8 Days a Week by the Beatles) ended. Participants were urged to dance, jump, or run in place –- anything to increase their step count. The winners received foreign coins and individual die as medals. (*See below for clapping game examples.)

Going into the Read-Aloud, we were unsure how many kids would be attending and whether we would be able to spend time outdoors. We played the activity by ear but planned alternate activities such as playing hopscotch, Go Fish, and dominoes. (**See below for an alternative activity.)

What makes this Read-Aloud so effective? 
  • It has a theme that unifies the experience but is broad enough to accommodate different ages and interests.
  • A wide variety of great Read-Aloud books are available on the topic.
  • It incorporates sensory experiences (holding items, eating blueberries and cherries, listening to music) and movement (clapping and dancing or running).
  • The activities related well to the theme and allowed the kids to experience the theme in concrete ways.
  • It had alternate activities planned to accommodate the kids or the environment.
If you have conducted a super successful Read-Aloud, please contact Stephanie at 

*Concentration Clapping Game

While sitting on the floor, assign everyone a number and start a rhythm by slapping thighs twice and clapping twice. A person says her own number with the thigh slaps and someone else's number with the claps. The second person picks it up and says a third. If a kid misses his/her number or the beat, then he/she is out (but still clapping). It keeps going until only one person is left.

Concentration (slap slap clap clap)
Are you ready? (slap slap clap clap)
If– so –(slap slap clap clap)
Let’s– go!(slap slap clap clap)

Then, player one, continuing the rhythm, says her own number twice followed by another number in the circle.

For example:
Player one: 1, 1, 4, 4 (slap slap clap clap)
Player four: 4, 4, 7, 7 (slap slap clap clap)
Player seven: 7, 7, 3, 3 (slap slap clap clap)

Anybody who makes a mistake or fails to keep the rhythm is out but remains in the circle, making it more difficult for the other players, who must remember not to use the numbers of the people who are out.

**One Frog

The first person says, "One Frog."
The next person says, "In the water."
And the next person says, "Kerplunk."

Now, increase everything by one.

So, the next person in the circle says, "Two Frogs."
And the next person says, "Two Frogs."
The person after that says, "In the water."
"In the water."

Again, anybody who makes a mistake or fails to keep the rhythm is out.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fiction and Nonfiction: Better Together

In my school library, I recently overheard a couple of students brainstorming ideas for their science project. They both had visited relatives over the summer who lived in Michigan and were discussing algae growth on Lake Erie and whether they could do their project on algae blooms. 

When I heard “Lake Erie,” my mind turned to The Lorax

“You’re glumping the pond where the Humming Fish hummed! 
No more can they hum for their gills are all gummed. 
So, I’m sending them off. Oh their future is dreary. 
They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary. 
In search of some water that isn’t so smeary. 
I hear things are just as bad in Lake Erie.”

Dr. Seuss removed the line about Lake Erie from The Lorax in 1985 at the behest of staff at Ohio Sea Grant.  They felt that, thanks to anti-pollution efforts, Lake Erie was much improved. 

I asked the students if they knew that this wasn’t the first time Lake Erie had been in trouble and that Dr. Seuss had even pointed out its problems with pollution when the The Lorax was published in 1971.

They were very interested to know that one of their favorite authors shared a real-world interest with them, and they had many more questions about what Dr. Seuss’s life was like apart from writing the books they know and love.

These budding scientists were focused on facts about algae but found a fascinating connection to the ongoing struggle to keep Lake Erie healthy through fiction. They left the library with books on plants and algae as well as a biography of Dr. Seuss and The Lorax.

Some students love to focus on nonfiction. Others love a made-up story. But when you can help them combine and connect to both nonfiction and fiction, you engage and expose them to different types of text while also boosting comprehension and building their background knowledge, vocabulary and critical thinking skills.  

Typically, kids’ natural curiosity gets them asking questions about things they discover from books. Often it is a fictional title that will get them wondering. Could it ever really be cloudy with a chance of meatballs? Can you make friends with a robot? Do fish really work together?

You can anticipate questions and help introduce and reinforce ideas by having nonfiction titles at the ready. Follow Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with Weather by Seymour Simon. Robots by Melissa Stewart is great after reading Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover. And don’t hesitate to dive into Exploring the Deep, Dark Sea by Gail Gibbons after reading Swimmy by Leo Lionni.

You can even take things a step further. Follow up your reading with activities or outings that offer opportunities for kids to take what they’ve learned and own it. For example, hand out big metal spoons after you’ve shared both Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Weather. Ask kids what will happen if they breathe on the back of the spoon. Have them do it and see if they create their own tiny cloud of water vapor! Talk about what you read about what happens when warm, moist air and cool air come together. They just made a cloud! 

Here are some terrific online resources to help you put fiction, nonfiction and great activities together. 

Award-winning author Melissa Stewart has not only written more than 150 science books for children but  also frequently speaks and writes about ways to teach science through literature. This article highlights her idea of Perfect Pairs and offers example pairs of fiction and nonfiction along with connections, discussion questions and activities.

Start with a Book, a project of Reading Rockets, offers 24 kid-friendly themes featuring specific ideas for using fiction and nonfiction books and related downloadable activities to get kids thinking, talking, creating and exploring. Reading Rockets also has Reading Adventure Packs (in English and Spanish), which provide recommended fiction and nonfiction titles along with printable activities and bookmarks.

Here’s the thing: as adult readers, we are constantly pairing fiction and nonfiction without even thinking about it. When you’re reading a great historical fiction title, don’t you look up the actual history? If you’re enjoying a novel set in present-day Paraguay, don’t you consult a travel website? And if you really love an author’s books, don’t you look for articles or a biography to read about his life? Just as you follow your curiosity, kids want to do the same. They just need you to help them make the match.

Guest blog post by Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

No more reluctant readers!

Avid reader? Struggling reader? Reluctant reader? Bad reader? 

Labels do matter, but so do positive reading experiences and a supportive community. The Reading Connection's programs provide opportunities and a community for at-risk kids to see their reading selves in a positive way.

Publishers Weekly* recently interviewed two seventh-grade teachers about how their goal of creating lifelong readers informs the way they talk to the kids, arrange their classrooms and set their priorities. Their insights, while gained working in school classrooms, offer inspiring examples that can be applied to our Read-Alouds. 

Teacher Pernille Ripp describes how kids develop their reading identities as follows:
"No child comes to kindergarten and tells us that they are a struggling reader... Instead, that identity is created within our classrooms, within our groupings, and within our hallway conversations, where students quickly figure out which labels should identify them....
 [T]here are so many readers who are not confident, or who don’t see reading as something they would ever do for pleasure. Does it matter what label we give them? Or do we simply need to help create a positive experience for them? Can we somehow re-frame the past experiences they have had with books and get them to reinvest, if even for a moment?" (emphasis added) 

The Reading Connection's programs are all about helping kids experience the joy, excitement and empowerment that reading can provide. Our Read-Alouds provide fun, no-stress experiences with books. We purposely conduct Read-Alouds that are exciting and interactive and include hands-on experiences and lots of conversation to show kids that reading doesn't always have to be solitary or school-related.

Helping kids become regular and passionate readers involves not just supporting their identity as readers but also creating a community where they can share their experiences and be supported by fellow readers. 

Again, Ms. Ripp's insights apply to the community building aspect of our programs.
"...[O]ne voracious reader will never be enough in order to get books in the hands of children. Finding allies in your school or community is important, bringing them in to book-talk books or simply having reading discussions with them is huge for reaching more students. Creating a visible reading culture is important as well.
It seems to me that often our self-identified nonreaders are also the ones that feel school is not a place for them. So we have to find a way of making them feel like they matter, like this place is for them, and that together we can create an experience that they want to be a part of."
TRC volunteers play a crucial role in creating that reading culture and helping kids develop a positive reading self-image. By talking with kids about books and kids' interests, feelings and experiences, our volunteers build relationships with the kids around books. These relationships of mutual respect and curiosity foster kids' identities as readers and valued community members.

Like Ms. Ripp, TRC wants all kids to be (and identify as) regular and passionate readers. Beyond the mechanics of getting through a Read-Aloud, we always try to build motivation and enthusiasm -- two essentials that can mean the difference between building strong reading skills or giving up. 

Once again, in Ms. Ripp's words,
"In the end, however a reader identifies, it really comes down to us to create an experience that will help them find amazing books, support them as they grow, and create a community of readers."
At The Reading Connection, our goal is that every child will be a regular and passionate reader. All of our programs are designed help kids develop identities as curious, joyful, regular, passionate readers and build reading communities that they can belong to.

*Creating Lifelong Readers: Two English Teachers Discuss What Works With Their Students, moderated by Shannon Maughan, August 19, 2016

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Happy Birthday, Brown Bear!

This September, a special 50th anniversary edition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle finds its way to bookstores. In anticipation of a year-long celebration of the 1967 publication of this beloved picture book, Macmillan publishers have produced special editions and planned a year of events. They even created a dedicated website for the Brown Bear celebrations to come.

Eric Carle celebrating 50 years of  Brown Bear
at the Eric Carle museum. Photo by Jim Gipe.

What makes a picture book worthy of all this hoopla? This classic picture book appeals as much to kids today as it did 50 years ago, and has introduced millions of kids to the joy of reading. It is often the first book with Eric Carle’s distinctive illustrations that kids encounter.

Courtney Kissell, TRC's executive director, shares Brown Bear with kids at ARHA.

At The Reading Connection, Brown Bear is our go-to book, whether our topic is the importance of rhyme and repetition or the appeal of illustrations.

We love Brown Bear’s
  • Vibrant, cut-paper collage illustrations,
  • Rhyming, rhythmic, repeating text that is fun to chant,
  • Colors and animals,
  • Just-right length and
  • Surprise ending.
These qualities build reading skills. Colorful illustrations and familiar animals hold kids' interest, while galloping rhyme and repetition and frequent chances to predict what comes next teach phonemic awareness and build comprehension.

We asked Angus Killick, Vice President at Macmillan Publishing Group, what he thinks gives Brown Bear it's enduring appeal.
It's the perfect picture book! Bill Martin, Jr.'s skill was bold rhythmic text and word repetition. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? is a fine example of his genius in that respect. It is also a wonderful example of the drama of prediction and that's why children who are not yet reading can appreciate the predictive nature of the text and participate in the many readings. Martin's text, paired with Carle's gorgeous illustrations featuring impressionist portrayals of colorful and playful animals ('blue horse', 'purple cat' anyone?), make for nothing more than a perfect picture book to read aloud and share with a small child over and over again.

Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.  in 1992

Twenty-five years after Martin and Carle created Brown Bear, they collaborated again to create Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? This time, zoo animals make a ruckus, inviting kids to bellow, flute and snort along with the story.

Next came Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? This time, 10 years after Polar Bear, Martin and Carle featured endangered species strutting, soaring and strolling through the pages, daring kids to romp along.

Finally, Martin and Carle created Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? Their last collaboration, published in 2007, follows a baby bear as he looks for his mother among animals from North America. As with its predecessors, Baby Bear’s simple rhyming text delights children and invites them to chant and move along with the story.

"All together, the four Bear books have sold 50 million copies in the U.S., including 14 million of Brown Bear,” according to Kare Rauquist in the August 10, 2016 edition of Publisher’s Weekly. The numbers don't lie. Brown Bear and his relatives have enchanted millions of kids, and at 50, they are still going strong. These books are fun to read and to listen to and a delight to look at, making learning to read a pleasure.

Move over, Cat in the Hat. The Bears are coming for you!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Summer Superheroes: We Are Readers 2016

Just a few weeks ago, The Reading Connection (TRC) finished its We Are Readers summer reading program at five participating sites. I am happy to report that it was both super fun and successful! TRC augments its regular Read-Aloud schedule every summer to include two days of reading, as opposed to the normal one day per week during the school year. Engaging kids in reading aloud and related activities is important because they are at risk of losing reading skills during the out-of-school months. These activities are especially important for the disadvantaged, at-risk kids that TRC serves.

Here’s a quick look at the success We Are Readers saw this summer. 

We Are Readers Kits 

We provided each volunteer team a kit for its Read-Aloud that contained books, an activity and a snack, chosen specially for the day’s theme. Every Read-Aloud at every site had a designated bag, which provided support to both summer-only volunteers and regular Read-Aloud volunteers.

Superhero Theme

All the We Are Readers Read-Alouds this summer revolved around a unified theme: superheroes! We kicked off the first week with the subtheme “Be your own superhero.” Volunteers encouraged the kids to reflect and consider what their superpowers are because not all superheroes have the same powers.

We reinforced the kids' superhero identities (and tracked attendance) by asking the kids to create a superhero poster that included their superhero name, picture and a description of their super-selves and powers. The kids placed a sticker on the corresponding date on the poster to track their attendance. We also gave every child a charm necklace for which they received a new charm every day they were present.The kids enjoyed both the posters and the necklaces. The Polaroid "instant cameras" used to take their pictures intrigued them, too!

After working through the concept of “be your own superhero,” we introduced kids to more superheroes and super things during weeks two through six: superheroes of the community, superheroes of the animal kingdom, super-foods, super-STEM and super-authors.

Because We Are Readers lasts six weeks and we used six subthemes, we spent a week (two Read-Alouds) exploring each theme. This is twice as much time as kids usually spend exploring a theme in our program, and we found that the kids were very engaged, asking questions and discussing the new ideas presented in the Read-Alouds.  

For example, I led a Read-Aloud about super-foods during the third week of We Are Readers at Sullivan House. There are tons of interesting books about food, of course, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Stone Soup, which we took advantage of before our activity.  A local bakery, Village Sweet, provided “super-food muffins” (made with zucchini, carrot and currants) for the kids to try, and they loved them! Trying the muffins and other super-foods provided by our volunteers sparked a conversation about which foods they had and had not tried, and they started to make a game of it.

Since the kids expressed an interest in discussing all the foods they knew, we stopped and read Eating the Alphabet together, which is basically about a ton of fruits and vegetables from A to Z. They really enjoyed thinking of the fruits and vegetables not shown in the book, and it helped them learn a lot about each other’s cultures and backgrounds through food.  

Using a more unified theme structure this year worked exceptionally well. It allowed the kids to get more immersed in the subject matter than in previous years, when the themes rotated more quickly and were less woven into the overall structure. For instance, connecting the subtheme of super-foods to the overall theme of being your own superhero made it easier for the kids to establish a good background knowledge of healthy foods and how they can help kids' development into super-people. 

Special Guests 
To help drive home the ideas from our theme, we invited several special guests to speak during We Are Readers. One set of special guests was Zach and Bentley (pictured on the right), who visited the kids at ARHA during the “superheroes of the animal kingdom” week. From the age of five, Zach has suffered from serious seizures that can be harmful to his health. To help manage the seizures, Zach got a service dog, Bentley, who can help alert Zach when he’s about to experience a seizure. Zach and his mom, Mary, were kind enough to bring Bentley to ARHA and talk to the kids about service animals. Bentley was kind enough to let everyone pet him! 

The kids at New Hope Housing got a special visit from Mr. Berman, a chemist, during super-STEM week. He taught the kids about how light and light waves work, and they thought it was super cool – as you can see. 

Firefighter Mike Kelly, a superhero of the community from the Bethesda Fire Department, was kind enough to visit our kids at Greentree Shelter, showing them his firefighting gear and letting the kids try it on. Zookeeper Becky Malinsky from the National Zoo visited our kids at Sullivan House to talk to them about superheroes of the animal kingdom. The Reading Connection staff, volunteers and kids really appreciate all of our special guests! 

We Are Readers made an impact in the lives of 114 children and provided them with over 500 books this summer, and we couldn’t have done it without our many wonderful volunteers – thank you! We’d also like to thank the “behind the scenes” volunteers who provided materials for various activities, such as the superhero cape materials provided by Susan Kelly for the kids at New Hope Housing. 

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

What's Your Story? Helping kids become storytellers

Reading books with kids is a good idea for so many reasons. Years of research show that reading aloud with kids daily is one of the most important activities that contributes to their reading success. Listening to books read aloud motivates kids and gives them models for fluency, boosts their comprehension, builds their vocabulary and background knowledge, and gives them the opportunity to wonder, ponder, and question ideas they might otherwise never encounter. But what about telling stories from life -- yours or theirs, past or present?

Image result for what's your story

Everyone has stories to share. It is important to help kids tell their own stories and to encourage parents to share their own family stories with their children. Hearing and telling stories about their family helps kids learn from the experiences of those closest to them and helps them better understand who they are and where they come from. These are the stories that kids will hold onto for a lifetime.

But kids often don’t know where to start when telling a story. Whether you are at a Read-Aloud or with kids in your own life, you can help them when you offer the following:

Share your own stories. Start with a book that has a theme everyone can relate to, such as Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey or First Grade Jitters by Robert Quackenbush. Then tell a tale from your own back-to-school experiences. Get kids to help you compare your experience with the characters in the book, and then invite kids to share their own school stories.

Using objects to start kids on the road to storytelling. Choice Literacy has great ideas about kids using important objects to inspire personal narrative stories. Having something concrete to explain and describe creates purpose and direction for creating a story. If a kid struggles to get past the simple description of his object, ask him to talk about how he got it, who he was with and how he felt , in order to get him going.

One way to provide three-dimensional objects for the kids is to bring in a storytelling sack. To make a storytelling sack, get a fabric drawstring bag or a pillowcase. Fill the sack with small, interesting items — toy animals, LEGO figures, toy tools, craft items and other random objects. To start the storytelling, unpack the sack! 

Each person takes a turn removing one object at a time. The first person uses the object to start a story. As each kid removes an object, she uses it as her prompt to add to the story. Practicing making up and telling stories about random objects allows kids to develop their skills. You can also encourage kids to make their own sacks filled with personal items and then take turns telling stories that use some or all of the items in their sacks.  

When we hear each other’s stories, we can't help but care about each other. Show kids you care! Make time for conversations in which you show real interest in what kids are saying and ask substantive questions that lead to kids to share their stories and experiences. Talk about yourself and help them feel safe to share their own stories, happy or sad. The stories they have for you are a gift just waiting to be heard.

Guest blog post by Belle of the Book, Rachael Walker.

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Parental Engagement in TRC Programs

Recently, The Reading Connection (TRC) had the opportunity to work with graduate students in a research methods class at Marymount University (Arlington, Va.) on a project to identify ways to strengthen our efforts to involve the parents of kids who participate in our programs. 

What are we doing now? Currently, three of our programs help parents support their child's literacy development.

Our Read-Aloud program, conducted for kids ages four and up, is provided by volunteers who visit housing sites weekly to read aloud with kids, talk, conduct activities and help kids choose a new book to keep. Parents are welcome to attend with their child, but more often, kids come on their own and take a new book home with them. By providing books for kids to read at home, TRC helps parents create a home environment that supports reading.

In the Book Club, parents help their children choose books each month and receive tips on how to share those books with their kids when the books arrive in their monthly package. In addition, parents receive quarterly information about child and literacy development and information about available resources. The Book Club is targeted at families with children ages newborn to 5 years but serves families with kids of all ages.

TRC's Reading Families Playgroups and Workshops work directly with the parents of Read-Aloud and Book Club children on literacy development. Each playgroup or workshop includes exploration of several children's books, modeling of effective book-sharing strategies, discussion and the opportunity for parents to choose free books for their children.

The Marymount students found much in the literature that validates TRC's programming, while also revealing some areas where our programs could be enhanced. Here are some of the highlights.

TRC programs support parent engagement
The research review showed areas of parental engagement that positively affect scholastic achievement, which TRC programs encourage. 

Home-based involvement  
Studies found a positive correlation between home-based parental involvement and grades and attitude toward education as well as decreased behavioral issues. Home-based involvement was also found to be the most widely used form of scholastic engagement among African American families (Wang & Sheikh-Khali, 2014 and Ganotice & King, 2014).

TRC programs support home-based involvement by providing age-appropriate children's books to be read at home and by teaching parents about literacy development and book-sharing strategies. 

Academic socialization refers to parents talking with kids about school work and the importance of education as well as supporting educational goals. This type of engagement had the strongest positive relationship with academic success among adolescents. However, children of all ages benefit from this kind of parental engagement (Wang & Sheikh-Khali, 2014; Reece, Staudt, & Ogle, 
2013; Ganotice & King, 2014).

TRC’s programs (described above) help parents understand literacy development and create supportive home reading environments, which includes the crucial importance of conversation between parent and child. We encourage this conversation through the tips provided with each book from the Book Club and by providing bookmarks each week for the kids to take home from the Read-Aloud program. With a little information about the Read-Aloud theme and prompts for parents, we hope this bookmark, provided in Spanish and English, will help parents talk with their kids about their experience at the Read-Aloud and support their learning and curiosity. 

In reviewing the literature, the student researchers also found a Parent Reading Belief Inventory. This inventory demonstrated that parents’ beliefs were significantly associated with the reading practices between parent and child, along with the child’s attitude towards the book.

When socio-economic status is held constant, parental beliefs were significantly related to reading practices and child’s attitude and motivation (DeBaryshe & Binder, 1994). The higher scoring parents (those with more positive beliefs about reading) read to their children more frequently, had more books, had higher quality interactions and discussions with the child that stimulate language skills, and had a higher reported interest in books by their children. 

For TRC, this means when we can influence a parent’s beliefs about reading, we can make an impact. Reading Families Workshops and Playgroups are designed to foster parents’ positive attitudes and beliefs about reading in addition to teaching skills and providing resources.

Where socio-economic status does matter is in parents’ access to resources to promote literacy and in their teaching style with their kids (Lam, Chow-Yeung, Wong, Lau, & Tse, 2013; Vandermaas-Peeler et al., 2009). TRC's programs target at-risk families to provide free, high quality books and teach effective teaching strategies to parents. 

Barriers to participation 
The literature about parental engagement also identified several factors that prevent some families from fully engaging in school or community programs, including schedule conflicts, child care responsibilities, working or going to school, and lack of energy in parents (Lamb-Parker et al., 2001). It also identified income as affecting the various resources and opportunities available to families. Libraries were not frequently used for a variety of reasons (Sonnenschein and Schmidt, 2000).

By bringing our services to families where they live, TRC's programs remove some of these logistical barriers. 

While the Marymount literature review found research supporting TRC’s programming, it also identified areas where we can adjust our curriculum and programming with intensified focus on enhancing parental engagement. These areas include, but are not limited to, the following:
Renewed effort to encourage library use,
Strengthening parents’ understanding of literacy development to enable them to more effectively advocate for their children at school,
Explicitly encouraging conversation and shared reading activities by providing prompts and teaching an increasing variety of book-sharing techniques.

As TRC continues to grow, adding Read-Aloud and Book Club partners in the Washington, DC metro area, we also will continue to deepen and enhance our programs to better serve developing readers and their families.

For a bibliography of studies cited in this post, click here