The holiday time of year can be filled with the rush of gatherings, time with family, and in most cases a break from the norms of the day.  In all this hustle and bustle, the standard time for teaching can often be lost.  Sitting down and formally taking out a book or magazine to read may not be the first thing we think of waking up in the morning. Yet, students who scored 90% better than their peers on reading tests read for more than 20 minutes a day – exposing them to 1.8 million words a year.  It is our job to continue reading daily, and there are simple solutions for adding reading into our daily busy lives. So, fear not, educators and families! Here are some  ways to continue to keep reading and learning alive during such a busy time of year:

The Spoken Word

Without realizing it, adults typically speak approximately 7,000 words per day.  In the case of learning, we can put those words to good use when shopping, driving in the car, or even taking a break from those hectic days.  Children love to tell a story to anyone who will listen, so as adults it is our job to make that story a learning moment.  Take a recent conversation with a teacher and her fourth grader as an example.  Upon being asked what he is planning to do this weekend, the child starts to tell all about a trip to Atlanta that he might be going on over the holiday break.  He proceeds to tell who was going with them, and what they might do there, and who they might see.  This was a perfect opportunity for some comprehension activities to occur, simply with a conversation.  When the child said, “might”, that was an instant moment where the teacher asked, “Well, what might you do if you don’t go to Atlanta? Who will you see or what do you think you might do then?” Simply asking a child to predict a new ending (for those who remember the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books of this in real time) or to expand or change the ending helps them to learn to comprehend more when they get to the written language on paper.  Music and television are great avenues for this too!  It’s always fun to start listening to a song in the car then turn it off briefly and ask children to make up their own rhyme or line that they think should be in the song.  Rhyming can be a very difficult skill for early readers.  Those who are musically motivated can sometimes hear it better in song, and sometimes what children come up with is better than the original!  When watching movies, television shows, or even cartoons, turn off the volume during commercials (or pause the DVR or video) and ask your child what they think is coming next and why.  Cause and effect is an important skill to make relevant, so using what children are interested in increases the retention of the ideas.  The most important step in all of this is to tell our children that while doing all this, they are actually performing skills that can help when reading too.

Reading Activities in Hidden Places

Is your child having more “screen time” than usual during this season, where sometimes the weather may not be best to go outside and we receive the textbook boredom response of “We did that already?”  There’s a way to incorporate reading there, too.  Have you ever heard a word, then saw it in print and thought that surely you were incorrect in how you thought that word was spelled?  Children can notice this too, especially with those tricky words like “know.”  By turning on the closed captioning on the television, YouTube or other audio sources, children are exposed to seeing the written word as well as hearing it.  In addition, if they have books they’ve already read or are “too easy,” have them reread it out loud to a family member or friend and leave out some key words and have the other person “guess” the word that is missing. Take turns back and forth, turning reading into a live game of MadLibs.   Making meaning relevant by utilizing different words both increases vocabulary and can provide children with a fun reason for learning.

Reading With Intention

Of course, giving the actual gift of a book is always a great option.  It is important, though, that we don’t just give a book and hope it doesn’t sit on the shelf.  Read together, taking turns sharing each page, or even just reading a book that is a little too difficult out loud is super important in developing strong readers.  If you have multiple children or nephews or nieces, give them each a book in a series to swap when they are done or all the same book.  In the age of technology, children can Facetime or have a group chat about the book as they read.  And (bonus!) if they want to text about it, reading and writing go hand in hand. What better way to incorporate what they already want to do with a book set they all could enjoy!  Getting children to read, in any format, is never a hindrance to learning.  So even if that coveted 20 minutes per day is elusive, know that there are ways to expose them to the act of reading and learning during this time of year.