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, 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