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

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Guess who's coming to our Read-Aloud: Finding special guests

Considering inviting a special guest to your Read-Aloud? While there are many factors to consider and you'll need to consider more scheduling details than usual, special guests are a real plus for Read-Alouds. When planned well, a special guest at your Read-Aloud can elevate the level of child engagement and spur the kids' interest in a particular topic area. It is a great opportunity to provide lots of background knowledge and expand the real-life experiences available to the kids at your site.  

What type of special guest would be able to capture and maintain the kids’ attention throughout a Read-Aloud? Who would give the kids insight into an area to which they otherwise might not have access? What type of person might be off-limits? 

Thinking through all these issues (as well as making sure there are children's books available on the topic), is key to a successful special guest visit.

Brainstorming about special guests

When you are brainstorming about prospective guests, stay open to all types of professions or expertise. Anyone who is good with kids and has a job or skill set that lends itself to a kid-appropriate, interactive activity during the Read-Aloud can be considered. We've had reporters, chefs, athletes, artists, a bus driver and a nurse visit Read-Alouds. Maybe you have a great dentist, hair dresser or well-traveled friend who would make a great guest! Here are some examples of special guests who have previously visited Read-Alouds.

Firefighters visited ALIVE! House and taught the kids about their daily work. The kids got to tour the fire truck, try on turnout gear and learn about fire safety.

Paws To Read, a literacy program featuring dogs as reading partners, came to Columbia Grove last summer. During the visit, kids read aloud to the appreciative audience of dogs! All the local library systems have a version of this program, whose goal is to let the kids enjoy quality time with dogs while strengthening their reading confidence. Contact your library for details.  

Blues musician Chet Chandler sang with the ARHA Ruby Tucker Center kids. He provided a glimpse into his background, as well as into the history of the blues genre. The kids got a better understanding of music and had fun clapping and singing along.

A zookeeper at the National Zoo, Becky Malinsky, visited Greentree Shelter to talk to the kids about the animals at the zoo and the day-to-day work of a zookeeper. The kids made (and ate!) food for the pandas and asked questions about their favorite zoo animals.


These guests worked well for the following reasons: 

  • they had knowledge about a topic that interests kids, 
  • they could relate to the kids and
  • their visit provided an opportunity for the kids to experience something new.

When brainstorming about potential guests, it's important to remember that not everyone is a good prospect. Based on previous experience, police should not be special guests at domestic violence shelters because some of the residents might be uncomfortable with their presence. 

Once you brainstorm some potential guests, search to find appropriate children's books related to the specialty. Even though having a guest at your Read-Aloud may change how much reading happens that night, you will still need a couple of related books. 

Finally, run your ideas by Stephanie. You'll need her permission to invite a guest to the Read-Aloud. She knows what specific sites allow, and she can tell you whether or not you need to get on OK from site staff. You might have a great idea, such as a naturalist who will bring snakes, but a site rule (no animals) or previous situation might mean that you won't be granted permission.   

Including your team members

Make sure to keep your fellow volunteers and site coordinator in the loop. Contact them after you’ve gotten permission from Stephanie and the site staff. It is best for you to remain the main contact and organizer so the guest isn’t overwhelmed by multiple volunteers planning with him or her. 

Contacting a special guest

Planning ahead as much as possible is key. Try to start this process at least two months early. 

When reaching out to the potential special guest, share the following information:

The Reading Connection's mission.

The typical Read-Aloud structure.

Your expectations. Make the guest aware that he should be prepared to explain what he does, what makes him unique and what his field means to the kids. He should also be prepared to read a book that you'll provide.

Facts about the site. Describe the site, its location, whether its location is confidential, logistics about arriving at the site, the number of children who usually attend and any other key information.   

Dates. Give your prospective guest a couple of dates so that she has options. Ask her to arrive 15 minutes before the start of the Read-Aloud and to stay until the end.

Save the date

Once your guest agrees to a date, let Stephanie and your fellow teammates know the details. Also, make sure to pass along this information to the site staff (which you can do via Stephanie or your site coordinator) so that they can prepare for the guest and encourage kids (and maybe parents) to participate.

You'll want to confirm with your guest a few days before his visit to make sure he can still participate, and then reconfirm with the site staff as well.

Now that the date has been set, you can start planning the actual Read-Aloud. We'll explore that process in a future blog post.

This post was written by Rachel Fishman, TRC's AmeriCorps VISTA. 

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