To Make Books the Center of Your Holiday Season
It’s that time of year again. Parents everywhere are perusing red-and-green-themed websites and bow-bedecked store windows as they prepare to plunge into the frenzy of holiday gift buying. If your kids are like most, they’ve helpfully supplied you with a wish list featuring toys, video games, clothing items, and more. If you’re like most parents, though, you’d like to supplement those items with a few meaningful gifts of your own choosing.
Donalyn Miller has a suggestion: Give your children the gift of reading!
“If you can spark a love of reading in your children, you will be giving them a gift that will serve them well in school and in life,” says Miller, author along with Susan Kelley of the new book Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. “And if you choose books with consideration, you can maximize the odds that your children will read their gifts cover-to-cover—and ask for more!”
According to Miller, children need only a few positive reading experiences to get hooked on books—and you have a built-in advantage during the holidays.
“This time of year is so thrilling for kids that giving them a book now—as opposed to some other time during the year—makes that book seem more exciting and special,” she points out. “If you play your cards right, the holidays elevate the status of the book, and by association, reading itself.”
Book ownership is important for kids, says Miller, a Texas educator whose students read 40 or more books a year and regularly score high on the state’s standardized tests. That’s because owning books goes hand in hand with a love of reading—something that’s increasingly lacking amongst youngsters, but is very important.
“Studies show children who love reading are most successful in school,” Miller shares. “Later in life, readers have better job prospects, enjoy more professional success, and are more socially and civically involved in their communities.”
If you’re ready to begin book shopping, read on for eight things to consider when giving the gift of reading:
Paper or plastic? These days, the word “book” doesn’t necessarily denote a paper-and-ink object. It can also refer to a digital file on an e-reader! As a parent, it’s important to think about which format to buy. Neither is inherently better than the other. What’s important is that your child gets into reading, period—whether she’s looking at a page or a screen! However, one format might be better suited to your particular child. Here are several things Miller suggests you keep in mind when making this decision:
• Don’t assume that gadgets are the only way to go, or worry that print books will soon be obsolete.
• Not all e-readers are created equal. In addition to enabling users to read books, some support web browsing, game playing, and more.
• Ask your child what she prefers! “My daughter was very clear about the fact that she preferred physical books to an e-reader,” Miller shares.
Match interest to ability. Finding a book your child will enjoy isn’t always an easy task under the best of circumstances, but it can be especially difficult if your child reads below grade level. If he believes many of the books that he can easily read are “boring,” “stupid,” or “for babies,” he’ll develop a negative opinion of reading in general.
Offer the option to listen along. Maybe you’re concerned that no matter how compelling it might be, your child just won’t be able to settle down with a book long enough to become interested. Perhaps her attention tends to wander, or maybe she’s not a very strong reader. If that’s the case, Miller suggests taking the story into multimedia territory. Consider giving your child an audio and text version of the same book.
Leave your child hanging. Every month, it seems, a new children’s or young adult series attains popularity. (If you’re skeptical, just take a stroll through the nearest book store!) Not only is this good news for the continued survival of reading in general; it can also be good news for you as you try to hook your child on books. Consider buying the first few books in a series, but not the whole thing. If your child gets hooked, she’ll want to buy the rest of the series to find out what happens.
Make a book budget. If your children normally receive money for Christmas, Hanukkah, etc., talk to them beforehand about how it will be spent. Specifically, consider asking them to earmark a certain percentage of it for books, then take them to the bookstore for a fun outing.
Give books all around! Don’t leave the bookstore with a gift for your child only. Consider exchanging books with your spouse, your parents, your family friends, etc.
“When everybody reads, you’re modeling a great habit, and your child will be more likely to adopt it,” Miller promises. “Plus, reading books gives you and your kids more interesting topics and ideas to talk about with each other.”
“Book” a later bedtime. While your kids are out for winter break, consider allowing them to stay up later than usual—but only if they use that time to read.
Kids love the thrill of forbidden pleasures, like staying up past their bedtimes! Why not link that thrill to reading while you don’t have to get everyone up early for school? Just be aware that this temporary privilege might lead to illicit reading under the covers with a flashlight once classes start back.
Enjoy this gift together. Chances are, you read aloud to your child on a frequent basis until he learned to read himself. Then, if you’re like many families, storytime gradually fell by the wayside. That’s why Miller recommends giving your child at least one book that you can read together. You might choose a book that you yourself enjoyed growing up, the first in a series you can continue to enjoy, or even a nonfiction book about a topic in which you’re both interested. I’m a huge advocate of reading aloud. Not only does it support developing readers, it reinforces the notion that reading is enjoyable.
“For many families, the holidays are already filled with beloved traditions like baking, tree trimming, watching special films, and more,” concludes Miller. “I can’t think of a better one to add to the list than unwrapping new books at gift exchanges. When you give the gift of reading—and help your children learn to truly appreciate it—you will be helping them to develop a habit that will enhance the rest of their lives.”
Donalyn Miller is the coauthor of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Known as “The Book Whisperer” for her insightful advice on what students like to read and how to foster independent reading, Donalyn teaches language arts and social studies at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas. She is also the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. To learn more, please visit Donalyn online at www.bookwhisperer.com .
Susan Kelley is the coauthor of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. She has taught reading for over 30 years and currently teaches language arts and social studies at Trinity Meadows International