reading connection2The Reading Connection is a 2014 Community Investment Fund Grant Recipient in the area of Child & Youth Development.  Help support critical needs in our region with a donation to these funds today!

Elizabeth spreads her arms like wings.  “Move with me,” she says.  “See if you can guess. . . . ” Next, her eyes widen and she moves her head and body as if riding an air current.  All the kids follow her movements.  “Flying,” they say.  Elizabeth puts a finger to her lips.  “Flying quietly,” say the kids.  Her hands trace a beak on her face, opening and closing.  The kids silently mimic.  Elizabeth’s hands take the shape of talons, ready to grasp their prey.  “Owls!!” the kids exclaim.  They have guessed the theme for tonight’s session.

This is the beginning of a Read-Aloud, sponsored by The Reading Connection (TRC) with funding from the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia.  This session is at The Berkeley, an affordable  apartment complex in Arlington. Each week a team of volunteers trained by TRC comes to The Berkeley to read with the kids living there. Twenty percent of The Berkeley’s families speak English, 70 percent speak Spanish and 10 percent speak Amharic.

In addition to The Berkeley, TRC holds Read-Alouds at 12 other housing sites in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington. The Read-Aloud Program aims to get kids excited about reading because reading aloud with kids is an essential tool for school success. The Read-Alouds feature specially chosen, kid-friendly books, plus activities and opportunities to talk with other kids and the volunteers.

The owl theme was chosen by the volunteers once the boys in the group made clear their interest in unusual animals.  The volunteers read a variety of books about owls – one was fact-based nonfiction (Quiet Owls), two were funny and emphasized repeated phrases (Owl Babies and Whooo’s There?), one had beautiful illustrations and poetic language (Barn Owl).  Because the kids hadn’t had dinner, the volunteers brought apple slices, which had the added benefit of helping the kids sit quietly while listening.

Then it was on to the activity:  making owl puppets by gluing googly eyes, beaks, ears and wings on brown paper bags. The kids made the owlsreading connection1 their own.  Some chose pink and purple wings (as well as the more traditional brown and black) and used markers to draw feathers, talons and other small elements.  They talked about and played with their creations.

 At the end of every Read-Aloud, volunteers put out a selection of books provided by TRC and the kids take a minute to choose one. These books are theirs to keep.  They write their names on bookplates on the inside front cover and tuck them under their arms to go home.