I’ve written about this before, but it’s so important that I’m inclined to continue to write about it at every formal break from kids’ schooling — and that is the importance of continued reading even when kids are free from the requirements of schooltime reading. Set the expectation that your kids will read over Winter Break (ideally daily reading), and talk about the possible ways to make that happen. Here is a list of six ways to encourage reading over this holiday break:
- Make a plan for reading over the holiday break. Ideally before break even begins, talk with your kids to agree on a reading plan. When and where can your kids plan to read consistently that works with their winter break schedule/plans? Is there perhaps a time and place that is different from their regular routine that makes reading extra appealing? If you have the luxury of lazier mornings for a couple weeks, cuddling and reading in bed together might be a fun way to plan for daily reading. Or, maybe family reading time in front of a fire with hot chocolate is do-able over winter break when evening homework and activities are on hiatus. Remember the summer reading tent from my Summer Reading series?? If you want to make a novel reading place just for the holidays, help your kids make a “holiday reading tent” that they decorate with holiday-themed items or even Christmas lights! Above all, make sure you leave some down time for reading to happen!In addition to planning the where and the when, help kids make a plan for what they will read that includes titles of specific books. Is there a book or two that your child has been wanting to read but hasn’t had the chance during the busyness of the school year? Is there a particular author, or series, or nonfiction topic that your child might want to focus on for two weeks? Encourage your child to make a “holiday reading pile” of books to tackle over the break. You might also decide on a mini holiday version of the summer reading tree — for example, by adding “ornaments” with book titles to a real (or cutout of a) Christmas tree or making a snowflake wall with kids’ snowflakes representing each book read.Whatever your plan, it will be more effective if Mom and Dad have reading plans as well — modeling everyday reading is just as important as encouraging it!
- Read aloud holiday-themed books. Reading aloud is super beneficial for kids of all ages and abilities, even the most proficient and eager readers. (Click here and here for posts on reading aloud.) During the holiday season, read aloud the many fantastic holiday-themed picture books. The best holiday books often have rich content with important messages that provide opportunities for engaging and meaningful discussion. Parents tend to search for books that target the holiday that they celebrate in their homes, but if you can, try to include books about holidays and traditions other than your own. Below are just a few great holiday read-alouds to consider: (Click on the book title to buy directly on Amazon.com.)
- The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree(David Rubel)
- The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate (Janice Cohn)*
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (Susan Wojciechowski)
- Christmas Tapestry (Patricia Polacco)
- The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry)
- Gifts of the Heart (Patricia Polacco)
- The Gingerbread Pirates (Kristin Kladstrup)
- Great Joy (Kate DiCamillo)
- The Lady in the Box (Ann McGovern)
- The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story (Lemony Snicket)*
- The Lump of Coal (Lemony Snicket)
- Merry Christmas, Strega Nona (Tomie dePaola)
- Night Tree (Eve Bunting)
- An Otis Christmas (Loren Long)
- The Polar Express (Chris van Allsburg)
- Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story (Cynthia Rylant)
- Stick Man (Julia Donaldson)
- Strega Nona’s Gift (Tomie dePaola)
- The Trees of the Dancing Goats (Patricia Polacco)*
- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story (Gloria Houston)
- Welcome Comfort (Patricia Polacco)
- The Wild Christmas Reindeer (Jan Brett)
Remember, try not to just read aloud a book straight through from start to finish, but instead make reading aloud interactive by sharing your own thinking about the books as well as getting your kids to share their thinking. Even just a minute or two of “text talk” before, during, or after reading aloud can make a significant difference in your child’s comprehension, learning, and complex thinking. And, keep in mind that kids don’t get “too old” for picture books! While elaborating on this is beyond the scope of this blog post, good holiday-themed picture books with sophisticated vocabulary and rich content can lead to meaningful discussion and good thinking for kids of all ages and reading levels.
*These books bring in elements of both holidays and traditions, though they are more Hanukkah-themed than Christmas. Check out my prior post for my top 10 Hanukkah books this season.
- Give books as gifts! Make giving books at least a small part (if not a significant part) of the gift giving you do during the holidays. Give books to your kids, to family and friends, to teachers, and donate books. And let your kids be part of the book-giving process — they can help select books to purchase, wrap books, and even read reviews (e.g., on Amazon.com) to help make decisions about what to buy. Some fun books-as-gifts ideas include:
- Create a book advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas. New books can be wrapped (and numbered) to represent days left. Or, since that can get pricey, your own collection of holiday books can be put away for the year — in December wrap them, and then unwrapping and reading them is like reuniting with special old friends each year. I love the book advent calendar idea because it combines giving books with daily reading over break!
- Give a book for each night of Hanukkah. This is one we do in our family every year, though I think my husband isn’t crazy about adding 24 news books (8 days times 3 kids) to our library in a matter of 8 days! I usually start to hide books away months before, so they don’t all have to be purchased at once.
- When kids are participating in holiday gift exchange games, give books! You can even focus the entire game on books and ask everyone to bring books rather than toys. This can be especially fun when everyone gives holiday-themed books that results in sharing and reading aloud after completing the game.
- A friend just told me that she is using the motto “Want, Need, Wear, Read” for her gift giving to her kids this year. What a great way to condense the number of gifts and incorporate books. Ask kids to make their own “wish list” for each category, which can be a valuable exercise for them as well as fun for you to observe (“want” vs. “need” distinctions). And, the wish list for the “read” category can double as an “after Christmas reading plan” to help with the goal of reading over holiday break.
- Give a family member who does not live locally a “video book” — a recording of your child reading aloud his/her favorite holiday picture book. Put it on a zip drive, wrap it up, and send it away!
- Travel with books. If you are traveling over the winter break, make sure that you encourage your kids to pack the books they plan to read. Talk together about how many books they will need for the number of days you are gone, and come up with a plan before your trip for how they will fit in the reading. Remember to show your kids that you are packing your own books for travel as well!In our family, we travel annually to Oregon with the kids’ cousins and grandparents, and a favorite pastime has become group bedtime read-alouds. Adults take turns each night doing the reading aloud, and Nana always ends each read aloud session by initiating a collaboratively told story among her and the grandkids. It has been particularly fun to watch the older kids take over some of the reading aloud as they’ve become good readers. For us, because of this tradition, reading has become an expected and looked forward to part of our holiday travel. When packing and deliberating over book choices, my kids consider which books their cousins might also enjoy the most or not have heard, and it is exciting on the other end when everyone unpacks their suitcases to show off what the week’s reading menu looks like.
- Try to connect reading with your kids’ holiday activities. Connecting reading with actual experiences has learning and motivational benefits, and the holidays can be such a fun and natural time to link the two. Try to find books that link to kids’ activities over break — such as ice skating, snow skiing, places traveling to, and holiday cooking and crafts. Maybe even visit the library and search for “how-to” books that describe step-by-step holiday-themed activities that interest your kids (e.g., making a particular holiday decoration or baking a special holiday treat). Kids can read the book and use it as a guide when trying it for themselves. Since some of the best holiday books tell stories of characters carrying out actions that reflect important holiday messages (e.g., of giving to those in need, of religious tolerance), help your kids link the themes and actions in specific books to your own family’s actions during the holiday season (e.g., donating gifts, volunteering time, small acts of kindness that demonstrate caring). Connecting holiday book themes to charitable actions not only makes the books more meaningful but it focuses the holiday less on material items and more on the important messages and the holiday spirit.Also, find holiday-themed books that have been made into movies or plays (e.g., A Christmas Carol; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; The Nutcracker; Olive, the Other Reindeer; The Polar Express. Read the book, see the movie, and then discuss differences between the two. This alone — a list of pairs of books to read and shows to see — can make for a great holiday reading mission!
- Encourage holiday-related writing experiences. Kids’ reading and writing go hand in hand, so both will benefit if they can engage in some writing over the winter break as well. The holidays provide lots of opportunities for holiday-inspired writing. A few ideas include:
- Ask kids to do some functional (purposeful) writing for your family, such as writing the grocery list for holiday cooking, creating menus for holiday parties, making their own “gifts to buy” list, or handwriting party invitations.
- Encourage letter writing, including thank you cards, letters to Santa, persuasive letters/correspondence with the “Elf on the Shelf”, and adding notes in family holiday cards to friends and family.
- Help kids email an author of a favorite holiday book. Many authors will respond, and this connection can be very exciting for kids.
- If you plan to go to a movie over break, read aloud the reviews with your kids, and then perhaps encourage them to write and post their own review after watching the movie.
- Encourage your kids to write their own holiday story. They can write a fictional or nonfictional story based on one of their holiday experiences. Or, they can use a favorite holiday book as inspiration for their own writing, perhaps by writing a sequel or a different story that borrows a particular element from the original (e.g., uses the same characters or setting, or conveys the same message). For added fun, provide your kids with authentic blank books (such as those on www.barebooks.com, which make for fantastic Christmas preents) so that their holiday stories can be added to your home library of holiday books (and read aloud as part of your holiday reading!). Parents of preschoolers, kindergartners, and emerging writers, remember that kids can dictate and then illustrate their holiday stories too!
To conclude: Hopefully you like at least one of these ideas and can use it to encourage your kids to read over Winter Break. If one in particular is a hit with your family, consider making it an annual holiday tradition. When kids can look forward to holiday traditions that incorporate reading, writing, and learning, you’ll have created an automatic way to integrate literacy into kids’ holiday breaks from school!
Breaks from school typically do result in breaks from reading. While time off from daily reading is not nearly as consequential during shorter breaks as it is over the summer (see my summer slide series), short school breaks such as Winter Break provide an opportunity to reinforce that reading is something that we do in the real world for pleasure and for information, not just because we have to for school or for “reading homework”. Building reading experiences into school breaks (even in small ways) paves the way for regular reading during the summer, which can make a giant difference in kids’ reading trajectories and the building of lifetime (rather than schooltime) readers!
Coming up: TATTLER #3, Book – The Teddy Bear (David McPhail). A bunch of readers have asked where this is. My hope was to do these weekly, and I have not come close to making that happen. I am hoping to get to this ASAP.