The festivities and family celebrations surrounding the winter holidays create perfect opportunities to foster a love of reading and promote literacy with a child. These can be achieved by sneaking in some literacy support via holiday traditions and gift giving.
Here are a few suggestions (Special note: Some adults might love these suggestions as well!).
Create a holiday tradition
The holiday season is filled with a variety of themed books from those that tell the history of the holiday, The Story of Christmas and My First Chanukah, to the silly Olive, the Other Reindeer and I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel. Regardless of family preference, these stories create special opportunities to spend time with your child. Have a stack of these books easily available and read one every night leading up to the holiday. This is a wonderful tradition that can be enjoyed for many years.
Compare a book and movie version
Many holiday-themed books have also been adapted into feature movies. Take the time with your child to read the book prior to watching the movie. Some popular holiday books that are also movies include The Polar Express, Miracle on 34th Street, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and A Christmas Carol.
This can also lead to an interesting discussion by comparing the book and movie versions. Ask questions about the setting and main characters. Was there anything in the movie that was not in the book or visa versa? Did they think the people who made the movie did a good job? Why or why not? Which did they enjoy more, the book or the movie? Why?
There are many non-holiday books for younger children that have been made into feature movies, including Jumanji, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Curious George, Madeline, Shrek, Where the Wild Things Are, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Nim’s Island, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Tween and teens would enjoy these book/movie pairings: The Hunger Games, The Harry Potter series, Twilight, Fault in Our Stars, The Help, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief, The Notebook, Water for Elephants, The Hobbit, To Kill A Mockingbird, Divergent, If I Stay, The Maze Runner, The Lightning Thief, The Host, and The Life of Pi. Some of these movies have a more contemporary version that might appeal to teen audiences. Director Baz Luhrmann has created modern versions of The Great Gatsby and Romeo and Juliet, both of which have been well-received by teen audiences.
During the holiday break, children usually have a little more free time to read, and this is a perfect opportunity to read the book and then watch the movie.
Look for books with accompanying toys
There are many book/toy sets on the market, and these make great gifts for little ones, especially when the toy is used during the reading of the book. A toy or plush character creates an opportunity for the child to be actively involved in the reading of the book. Some suggestions for book/toy sets are: Dragons Love Tacos; Frozen; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; You’re All My Favorites; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; Owl Babies; Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site; Guess How Much I Love You; Maisy’s Bedtime; Beluga Passage; The Velveteen Rabbit; The Enormous Crocodile; and We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, to name a few. Just imagine how a book can come to life with a plush, bright caterpillar moving along the pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar!
Flannel/felt storyboards encourage creative storytelling
There are several flannel boards on the market that contain the characters of popular children’s books such as Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed; Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See; The Very Hungry Caterpillar; and Cinderella. There are also flannel boards that provide an opportunity for imaginative storytelling with farm animals, transportation, medieval castle and knights, dance, ocean life, and international people.
Flannel boards are an easy project to make at home. All that is needed is a sturdy piece of cardboard or wood, various colors of felt, glue, sharp scissors, fabric markers, and resealable plastic bags to contain the various cutouts (instructions and tips are available on the internet). With these simple supplies, you and your child can create the felt characters, scenery, and accessory items you need to develop any story your imagination can create.
The article “Why Children Should Be Given the Opportunity To Tell Stories” explains the importance of this skill and its impact later in life: “It’s difficult to be successful if you’re not a good communicator, and communication is, at its most basic level, the ability to tell a story well, whether to one person or to a group. Most of us will use reading and writing in our chosen professions, but all of us will use speaking and listening. Stories are the way we store information in the brain. Miscellaneous facts and data are easily forgotten unless they are put into a narrative context. ‘Storying,’ or the process of constructing stories in the mind, is one of the most fundamental ways of making meaning, and thus pervades all aspects of learning.”
Fun with bookmarks
With all that reading your child will be doing, they will definitely need a special bookmark. Many bookstores and specialty shops sell unique bookmarks. Some have tassels, beads, and jewels, while others have a holographic picture that gives the appearance of a moving image (think Clark Kent transforming into Superman, tropical fish swimming in a coral reef, or a horse galloping through a green pasture).
The internet is filled with unique gift sites that feature one-of-a-kind bookmarks — personalized with a name or saying, crochet flowers, hand-cut silhouettes, carved wood, sculptured metal, even one that resembles the Wicked Witch of the West trapped in the book with her feet dangling out (visualize the fallen house from The Wizard of Oz). Some bookmarks add humor to the reading with expressions such as, “Leave me alone, I’m reading,” “One more chapter,” “Fell asleep here,” or “Bookmark? You mean quitter clip.” There are also many bookmarks available that feature characters from TV shows and movies such as Outlander, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, War and Peace, Star Wars, Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Goonies, and even the musical Hamilton.
If you still cannot find the perfect bookmark, or simply want to do something unique for your child, you can create a personalized bookmark. It requires only a few craft items to create a bookmark-making kit. A homemade kit would be a perfect holiday gift. Vellum paper (cardstock), sticky laminating sheets, and stickers, photographs, and pictures from magazines are all that is needed to create a design that is uniquely your own. The instructions are very simple:
1. Cut the vellum paper to the desired size.
2. Place stickers or glue pictures onto both sides of the paper.
2. Cover with self-sealing laminating paper.
If you want to add a special touch, make a hole in the top and thread through a bright piece of string or even add some beads or gems to the string. These also make great party crafts, party favors, gifts for friends, and any other time you want to give a child (or even an adult) a special treat.
Provide your child with a variety of boredom-busting activity books such as crossword puzzles, seek-and-find books, Mad Libs, and even word-of-the-day calendars. There are Mad Lib books on just about any topic that would appeal to a child — Scooby-Doo, Frozen, SpongeBob, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, DC Comics Super Heroes, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Legos, sleepovers, birthdays, holidays, ninjas, sports, and animals, just to name a few. There are many word-of-the-day calendars on the market for various age groups, and you can even find poem-of-the-day calendars for kids.
Boost literacy with word games
There are many wonderful family games that can be entertaining while also supporting your child’s literacy skills. Games such as Bananagrams, Scrabble, Boggle, Hangman, Upwords, Zingo, Tiggly Words, and Tapple are enjoyable for the entire family, yet teach important literacy skills at the same time. Also, many of these games have a junior version and a more advanced version, so you and your child can progress in the game as their skills develop. Games, in general, are considered an important tool in language development in children.
“Games don’t need to be overtly academic to be educational,” according to Scholastic magazine. “Just by virtue of playing them, board games can teach important social skills, such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns, and enjoying interaction with others. Board games can foster the ability to focus and lengthen your child’s attention span by encouraging the completion of an exciting, enjoyable game.”
Give magazines a try
Magazines subscriptions are an excellent way to help a child explore an interest or hobby. Magazines cover everything from crafts, sports, science, and travel, to outdoor activities, fashion, cooking, and more. Younger children would enjoy Babybug, Cricket, American Girl, Boys Life, Cobblestone, National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Nick Jr., and Ranger Rick. Tweens and teens might enjoy ESPN, Sports Illustrated, GamePro, GL (formerly Girls’ Life), Mad, Seventeen, Billboard, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly.
Magazines are an especially important gift for reluctant readers in that they are not as overwhelming as a chapter book. Younger children get the satisfaction of finishing an article without the stress of feeling they need to complete an entire book. Also, the length of magazine articles is perfect for teens who are inundated with school-required reading assignments.
Journals and diaries to support writing skills
Cultivate your child’s imagination by giving them the gift of a diary or a journal. These come in a variety of styles and sizes sure to please anyone. Some journals include a message on the cover to encourage writing about a particular topic — “One Happy Thing Every Day,” “Shoot for the Moon,” “Make the World a Little Kinder,” or “Be Awesome Today.” Others are bound in beautiful leather with a long decorative strap to secure its contents. Some have an antique look to the pages and embossed patina covers. If you want to make sure the writings are completely secure, there are many choices available. Some diaries have a simple key that can be locked to hide content from prying eyes, while others use a combination lock to secure the contents. There are even voice-activated diaries that only open under voice recognition.
Mini book club
Encourage your child to have their own mini book club with a friend or even a family member; this is perfect for the time away from school obligations during winter vacation. Purchase the same book for your child and a special friend. They could read the book at the same time and have fun discussing the story and characters as they go along.
“Book clubs help children develop important language skills,” notes pbs.org. “Book discussions help children practice turn-taking, encourage them to use language to analyze, make predictions and solve problems, and provide them with opportunities to try out new vocabulary words. Simply by reading and participating in discussions themselves, parents can provide important language and literacy models for their children.”
Give the gift of a book tote – maybe even make your own
A trip to the library is an entertaining and educational experience, and many kids walk out laden with an armload of books (or maybe it is their parents carrying the load). Giving kids their own book tote is an amazing and very useful gift. There are book totes with whimsical expressions such as “Hot Girls Read,” “Book Diva,” “Bibliophile,” and “So Many Books, So Little Time.” There are book totes with a variety of designs such as sharks, alligators, ships, whales, sailboats, and flamingos that would appeal to kids.
If you are feeling very crafty or if you have a crafty child, decorating your own book tote could be a fun project. Again, all the supplies to create this project this could be the gift itself. First, find a good sturdy tote in a solid color. Next, find some items to decorate the tote such as fabric paint, fabric scraps or beads, and gems. Finally, have a great time and let the creative juices flow.
Bookstore gift cards
This is a wonderful gift because the recipient can select exactly what they want. Take the gift one step further and make it a special event. Enjoy browsing the shelves with your child, listening to what they prefer, and help them find the perfect books. If the bookstore has a snack section, take a break and enjoy a special treat while looking at all the new books. The key is to make an event of this, not just run in and out of the store. That is part of the gift, as well.
Create a home library for your child
Is there a small spot in your child’s room, or in your home, where you could create a personal library for your child? Start with a small bookshelf, or even some baskets, and fill these with their favorite books — maybe even throw in a few new ones as a surprise. Put in a nice comfy chair, stack of pillows, or a beanbag chair. Add a soft blanket to make it even more relaxing. Make sure there is a reading lamp that provides adequate lighting in this area. Consider getting a special cup with a sealed top so they can take their drink outside the normal eating/drinking area without making a mess. All together these create a wonderful personalized reading nook for your child.
Give the gift of a story
And now for the ultimate gift — give your child the gift of a story read aloud to them. Many times parents stop reading aloud to their children once their child can read independently. It is a great pleasure for children to have a story, poem, or magazine article read aloud to them by their parents. Parents and children can tackle a large book together (think Harry Potter or the Anne of Green Gable series) and read a little every night. Or if you prefer, smaller stories and picture books can be completed in one reading.
Aside from the academic support that reading provides, never underestimate the bond that is nurtured between a parent and child during quiet reading time. Reading and discussing books, stories, and articles in the safety and security of your home leads to many important conversations between you and your child. This is an opportunity to keep the lines of communication open with your child throughout the years.
Writes the Raising Children Network: “Reading or telling stories can also be safe ways to explore strong emotions, which can help your child understand change, as well as new or frightening events. Books about going to the dentist or hospital, starting at childcare or making new friends, will help your child learn about the world around him. Reading stories with children has benefits for grown-ups, too. This special time together promotes bonding and helps to build your relationship, laying the groundwork for your child’s later social, communication, and interpersonal skills.”
Book Box Sets – Perfect for All Ages
Surprise your child with a boxed set of a collection of books. Many of these come in decorative packaging that helps preserve the books for years to come.
Boxed sets for toddlers and young children:
• The Eric Carle Mini Library: A Storybook Gift Set (Rooster’s Off to See the World, Papa Please Get Me the Moon, Pancakes Pancakes, A House for Hermit Crab)
• Baby’s Box of Fun (Where Is Baby’s Bellybutton?, Where Is Baby’s Mommy?, Toes, Ears, & Nose!)
• Boynton’s Greatest Hits (The Going to Bed Book, Horns to Toes, Opposites, But Not the Hippopotamus)
• Chicka Chicka (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Chicka Chicka 123)
• Thomas and Friends: My Red Railway Book Box (Go, Train, Go!, Stop, Train Stop!, A Crack in the Track, Blue Train, Green Train)
• It’s A Busload of Pigeon Books (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!)
• Sweet Stories for Baby by Mem Fox (Time for Bed, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Everywhere Babies)
• Baby Einstein Learning Library (12 book set about nature, colors, shapes, animals, and numbers)
• Winnie-the-Pooh’s Library (The House At Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, Now We Are Six)
• Pinkalicious Phonics Box Set.
• The Complete Peter Rabbit Library (including 23 tales by author Beatrix Potter, such as The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and, of course, The Tale of Peter Rabbit).
Boxed sets for early readers:
• Pete the Cat’s Super Cool Reading Collection
• Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection
• Frog and Toad
• Curious George
• Disney Princess
• The Little House collection
• The Magic Tree House Library
• My Weird School
• Wings of Fire
• The Complete Ramona Collection
• The Judy Moody Uber-Awesome Collection
• My Little Pony
• Amelia Bedelia
• Fancy Nancy
• Encyclopedia Brown
• Mercy Watson
• Judy Blume’s Fudge Set
• The Cupcake Club
• Baby Kitty
• Captain Underpants
• Boxcar Children
• Busload of Pigeons
• The Disney Princess Little Golden Book Library
• Walt Disney’s Six Little Golden Books (classic stories)
• 65 Years of Little Golden Books
• Disney Classics Collection
• Rainbow Fish collection
• Dork Diaries
Boxed sets for tweens and teens:
• Percy Jackson and the Olympians
• The Underland Chronicles
• Warriors, The Seven Realms
• The Chronicles of Narnia
• Pokemon Adventures
• Diamond & Pearl
• The Spiderwick Chronicles
• Wonder/365 Days of Wonder
• Treasure Hunters
• I Funny Set
• A Series of Unfortunate Events
• Septimus Heap
• The Wrinkle In Time Quintet
• The Giver Quartet
• The Mysterious Benedict Society Collection
• The Ivy & Bean Secret Treasure Set
• Theodore Boone
• Carl Hiaasen Four Book Collection
• Oz Series
• Anne of Green Gables
• The Secret Series
• City of Ember
• Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
• Maze Runner
• Harry Potter series
• The Hunger Games trilogy
• The works of J.R.R. Tolkien
• Beautiful Demons
• John Green Set
Want even more titles? Check out our latest Reader's Roundup column for 2016 fall and holiday releases.