This time of year it seems as if every other television commercial is showing a plethora of toys to give your children. A doll that talks, a horse with a princess on it, transforming creatures, you name it. Then there is a multitude of high-tech gadgets advertised: a childproof Nook, an Ipad, a Kindle just for kids.
Amidst the hustle and bustle for toys and gadgets that require batteries, recharging cords, or assembly, I worry some people forget about a gift that will likely propel their children farther in life than most any of those toys. Books, good old-fashioned books! They can scribble their name inside the cover, take with them to their room, or better yet, get a parent or grandparent to sit and read to them. These experiences can be pivotal points in helping your little and big ones learn to love reading. Giving the gift of a book coupled with a person who will take the time to sit and read it aloud to them, that gift just became an experience that no price tag could come close to.
Are you reading this thinking that ‘my child can read by themselves, this isn’t necessary in my household’? Celebrated read-aloud expert Jim Trelease points out that continuing to read aloud long after a child can read by themselves has proven to be an important activity for success in reading itself. When you take the time to read aloud to and with your child, no matter the age, it creates a bonding experience and exposes them to more new words than they hear on a daily basis in everyday speech, it shows them how enjoyable it is to read, and you therefore become an excellent reading role model. Reading aloud for 15 minutes a day can transform your child’s life. Starting to read aloud at birth is a gift you can give all year long. Birth to age three are critical times for language development skills, with neuron connections in the brain forming at a rapid pace.
A basket with a book and activities to go with it can be a great, enriching experience for a reader, and a great present idea; what about puppets to go with “Goldilocks and the Three Bears?” Or even pancake mix to accompany “If You Give a Pig a Pancake”? Perhaps a gift of a little notebook and pencil to help a preschooler learn letters with the catchy “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” could find its way under your tree.
If you are worried you don’t know what kinds of books kids like ‘these days’ ask a librarian, or a teacher. Maybe even search out a copy of a book you grew up reading, and make the effort to read it with them, sharing memories of your childhood literary experiences as you go. Classic books never grow old; children today love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as much as the generations before, “Charlotte’s Web” is still an amazing read. Those precious minutes you spend together reading will impact their future success in school and life more than any battery-operated gadget you can wrap.
When I hear people rattle off the list of toys and gadgets they have ready for Christmas day, it always saddens me to think there won’t be any books under their tree. Long after the batteries wear out and the wheels pop off, the screen shatters and the pieces are lost; there will be a book. The pages might be dog-eared and worn, but they can still open it and be transported to a different place and time, learn new things about a beloved animal, find out how things work, or curl up in the corner and giggle at the silly antics of characters.
One of my favorite book quotes (fitting for this time of year) is ‘A book is a gift you can open again and again’ from Garrison Keillor. Will books find a spot under your Christmas tree?
Davison represents Hillsboro CARES (Community Advocates for Reading Enrichment and Success). The group recently started Local Lit is an incentive-based reading program, open to children in grades prekindergarten-5, both at Hillsboro Elementary School and those that are homeschooled.