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, January 3, 2017

Fun (not frantic) Read-Alouds

When kids walk in to a Read-Aloud, they may be in a rambunctious mood from playtime, stressed or hungry after a long day, or antsy after sitting in a classroom for hours.  Getting everyone calmed down and on task can sometimes seem impossible.  In fact, in our recent volunteer survey, calming and engaging high-energy kids was the most requested training topic.  Our December 2016 training covered skills and strategies for welcoming, calming, and engaging kids at Read-Alouds--here are some highlights.    

Talk to your fellow volunteers about the skills and strategies in this post. If your entire team is aware of these techniques, implementation will be much easier.

What are your expectations?
Before we start talking about strategies, the expectations you start out with should be appropriate, realistic, and consistent. Expectations should be

  • Age-appropriate.  The physical, social, and intellectual needs of the kids you work with will vary. A 4-year-old and an 8-year-old won't behave the same way or be interested in the same things.
  • Culturally aware. Remember that you are in their home or in their space, not at a school, library, or your home. Different social, cultural, and ethnic groups have varying social norms about the volume and give-and-take of conversation, especially with family and friends. Just because kids might be louder than you would be doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. 
  • Trauma-informed. Some TRC kids are experiencing stress that is, in some cases, persistent and toxic. Toxic stress damages brain development, including the connections between parts of the brain. That affects a kid’s executive function. Executive function is the ability to follow directions, manage one’s emotions and reactions to situations, and defer gratification.

To best ways to accommodate our kids’ needs include the following: 
  • Have appropriate expectations.
  • Be consistent. When the kids know what to expect, it is easier for them to positively engage. You can increase consistency by having a standard welcoming process used by all the teams at your site and by consistently enforcing rules and boundaries.
  • Prepare a structured Read-Aloud.
  • Give simple, short instructions.

Beginning the Read-Aloud 

One tried-and-true way to draw kids into your Read-Aloud is to engage their curiosity. Try one of the following tactics at your Read-Aloud:

A book box for Zin, Zin, Zin A Violin
contains sheet music, rosin, a
violin string and other related items
  • Using a book box, show items related to the theme and encourage kids talk about what they know about the items.  Then they can guess the theme.
  • Display the books for the Read-Aloud. Encourage kids to look at the books as they come in. A volunteer or two can talk with the kids about the books and ask them to guess the theme.
  • Start reading right away in small groups as kids come in and get their name tags. Once everyone has arrived, gather the group, review the Promises, and introduce the theme.
  • Provide word searches or mazes for the kids to work on right away, or tell riddles or jokes related to your theme and ask the kids to guess the theme. A quick internet search will provide lots of options for word searches, mazes, and riddles. For example: type “pirates kid word search” in your Google search box. You’ll come up with results like this.
Not only will you get the kids excited about the theme, but you’ll increase their comprehension by helping them remember what they already know about the topic.


When you need to get the group's attention, use a consistent “attention-getter,” such as these call-and-response phrases, or use the attention-getter currently used by the site staff.  Here are some favorites.  

Call: Bump budda bump bump              Response: bump bump

Call: 1,2,3, eyes on me                        Response: 1, 2 eyes on you

Call: If you can hear my voice, clap once        Response: clap 
Call: If you can hear my voice, clap twice       Response: clap clap

Calming activities

To calm kids before or during your Read-Aloud, try the following physical activities:

  • Yoga can relax kids and increase focus and concentration. At the training, Charlie demonstrated several poses, including tree, eagle with arms and legs, mountain with prayer hands, rag doll, warrior poses 1, 2, and 3, and child’s pose.
  • Focused breathing can calm kids and improve their attention. Stephanie taught several breathing techniques that the kids can do individually, in pairs, or as a group.

Energy-burning activities

After sitting all day at school, sometimes kids need to burn off some excess energy. Try these ideas before and during your Read-Aloud.
  • Energizers are short songs or rhymes with movement. They are perfect for vigorous but limited activity. "Go Bananas" is one of our favorites.  
  • Games, like "Simon Says," "Red Light Green Light," or "Mother May I?" can provide a needed outlet for energy in a structured way.
  • Incorporating kid movement WHILE you read aloud can be as simple as 
  • Asking the kids a question and having them turn and talk to each other, instead of selecting one child to answer for the whole group.
  • Identifying a part of the book you will be reading that lends itself to the kids acting out and encouraging them to do so when you get to that part. Look for repetition or active language when you pre-read the book. 
  • Involving the senses. Let kids snack while listening or give them items related to the story to hold during reading.

When all else fails...

Sometimes you will still have to redirect disruptive behavior. When you do, follow these guidelines.

Connect, then correct
  • Develop your relationship with the kids from the get-go. Engage BEFORE there is a problem. Don’t let the first time a kid is talked to at the Read-Aloud be to be corrected.
  • Call the kids by name, look them in the eye, sit at their level, and LISTEN to what they have to say.

Put the child to work

  • Turning the page,
  • Pointing out something in the illustrations,
  • Helping set up the activity,
  • Helping pass out snacks or set up the book give-away.

Abide by the promises yourselves

Model positive behavior -- your words and behavior can model positive behavior and conversation

Leverage site staff involvement
  • Use your site's attention-getting strategies
  • Use your site's behavior guidelines or incentives 
  • Ask staff for help

Getting to know the kids at your Read-Aloud, welcoming them each week, piquing their curiosity, and including movement to calm your kids or burn energy, along with consistent and appropriate expectations and rules, can make your Read-Alouds fun, not frantic.  Talk with the other volunteers at your site and identify some strategies you'd like to use, and then give them a try.

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