By Donalyn Miller, guest blogger
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.
I have 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. 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!
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. 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. (While my new book, coauthored with Susan Kelley, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, has great tips for parents as well, it’s actually aimed at teachers.) 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. Later in life, readers have better job prospects, enjoy more professional success, and are more socially involved and civic minded 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 I suggest 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. While there is a focus on gadgets these days, elevators didn’t put stairs out of business.
- Not all e-readers are created equal. In addition to enabling users to read books, some support web browsing, game playing, and more. You know your child and will have a good idea of how these extra capabilities might affect him. If you think he’ll be easily distracted, choose a device that’s an e-reader only and doesn’t have all the other bells and whistles.
* - Ask your child what she prefers! My daughter was very clear about the fact that she preferred physical books to an e-reader. Yours, too, might also have firm preferences already in mind.
* 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.
It’s definitely more difficult to find books that match developing readers’ ability and interest. But fortunately, it’s not impossible. Publishers are starting to recognize the gap that often exists, and to address it. So even if it means putting a little more effort into your book search, try your best to find something at your child’s reading level that he’ll actually want to read. You may be able to get some good leads by talking to his teacher. Remember, it’s crucial to promote the notion that reading is a pleasure, not a chore.
* 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, I suggest taking the story into multimedia territory.
Consider giving your child an audio and text version of the same book. Being able to listen along will help developing readers to “read up” and focus on comprehension, and it will help to lengthen all children’s attention spans. Listening to audio books also teaches children to love stories, which is just a hop, skip, and jump away from loving books.
* 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. You can turn the resulting bookstore trip into an opportunity to explore more authors, too.
* 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.
Thinking about and planning which books to buy with the money beforehand will be fun, too. With luck, your kids will want more books than they have money for right now!
* 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. 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. But if you’re anything like most parents, this is one rule you’ll be secretly glad your child broke.
* 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, story time gradually fell by the wayside. That’s why I recommend 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. Try to find climactic stopping points when putting the book away after each session. You’ll be amazed at how often your child will beg you to read a little more!
For many families, the holidays are already filled with beloved traditions like baking, tree trimming, watching special films, and more. 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.
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About the Authors:
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 Intermediate in Keller, Texas.
About the Book:
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits (Jossey-Bass, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-470-90030-7, $22.95) is available from all major online booksellers.