Deck the Halls with Boughs of Literacy

Whatever holiday you celebrate this winter season, you can have fun involving your children in the preparations and build their literacy skills at the same time! Consider these possibilities:

Make a list, check it twice. There are lots of reasons to make lists during holiday time: lists of things to do, lists of places to go, lists of foods to buy, lists of gifts to buy, and more. Have your children help you write those lists, and then have them read through the lists periodically to check off items that you and they have accomplished. If you have a child in early stages of reading and writing, concentrate on helping him or her figure out the first sound and letter in each word. If your child is more advanced, concentrate on stretching or breaking up big words as needed so he or she can represent all of the sounds.

Cook up some learning. Recipes are a form of how-to, or procedural, text—a type of text commonly found in school. Think instructions for doing a science investigation or directions for using a new computer program. Involve your children in reading recipes. Show them what you do and invite them to help: gather all of the ingredients at the beginning and pause after each step to make sure you’ve done each one correctly. Pay special attention to measurements, as they provide an opportunity to develop math skills.

Trim the table. Your children can make place cards or table tents for each guest, write poems or stories on homemade placemats, even label one or more of the dishes that will be served with information about what they contain and maybe even where they originated. When responding to your children’s writing, be sure to focus mainly on the content and what the writing communicates—not spelling or punctuation. We want to use this occasion to help build positive attitudes toward writing.

Plan a family activity. Family gatherings can be more memorable when there’s an after-dinner activity. Consider planning a sing-a-long. Your children can write the lyrics and music to a song—or read and reread lyrics found online. These activities are great for building reading and writing fluency. Or consider playing a board game that involves reading. If the game doesn’t contain print, add it, such as color words in Candy Land or “Up” and “Down” in Chutes and Ladders.

Give the gift of reading. Giving and receiving books sends a strong message about how much we value reading. Whether gift-giving is a part of your winter season, consider involving your children in donating books to children in need. The process of selecting books to donate is likely to fuel your children’s own reading and give you good ideas about books that interest them. If funds don’t permit book buying, think of lower-cost ways to give, such as volunteering to read to children at a local daycare center or send magazines to troops overseas. 

Take advantage of TV. After a long day of preparations, you and your children may need some time to unwind. Although my best advice is to curl up with a good book, TV can also support literacy development. Choose programs with a strong, rich storyline or lots of information about nature, history, or current events. Aim for programs that include words your children don’t know. Watch the programs with your child, explaining words. Also, discuss the storylines or information during (muted) commercial breaks. And turn those captions on—that alone can support literacy development.

The winter season brings lots of demands on your time and energy, but also lots of opportunities for love—and learning.