3 Tips for Making Reading Together a Family Holiday Tradition

The holidays bring lots of fun and excitement, but they can also be a stressful and busy time of year for parents. Our culture doesn't exactly encourage us to slow down and smell the roses in December. If you're looking for a way to reduce holiday stress and keep your focus on family time this year, consider making reading together one of your holiday traditions.

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We know that reading is good for kids. Study after study has shown that reading with our children, starting in infancy, helps to boost their language development. But there are other benefits as well. Reading is a quiet activity that emphasizes physical closeness, interaction, and time spent together. Plus, it doesn't cost any extra money or require bundling up and driving somewhere in the car, except for maybe a trip to the public library.      

Before you get swept up in the busy pace of the season, set aside some extra time for reading with your kids. Here are some tips for making it happen:

1. Look beyond bedtime

The evening hours can fill up fast during the holiday season, and too often, we find ourselves rushing tired kids off to bed with only a few minutes to read before lights out. In addition to the bedtime routine, look for other moments of the day when you can find time to read together. Place baskets of books strategically around the house to remind and inspire you. One by your bed might lead to early morning snuggles with favorite books - a great way to start the day together (as long as it isn't too early!). Put a basket of books next to the living room couch, and while you're at it, move the TV remote control out of reach. After a busy day of work, holiday shopping, or food prep, there's nothing better than curling up on the couch to share a good book with a child. 

2. Give reading with your child your full attention

Through our smart phones and tablets, we live in a world of seemingly constant connection to work, friends, and faraway family. This connectivity has value, but it is also relentless, and it often pulls our attention from the most valuable moments happening right in front of us. It is a true gift to our children and to us to turn off our phones, place them out of sight, and become immersed in a book together. See if you can let go of the to-do list in your head and just focus on the story, the pictures, and the child in your lap. After a couple of books and your full attention, you may find that your kids are ready to run off and play independently, and you may be refreshed and ready to tackle the next task of the day.  

3. Give books as gifts

What we give as gifts to children conveys important messages about what we value in life. Giving books tells children that we value reading, and when we read together, we send the message that we value time with them. When friends and family ask what they should give your child this season, encourage them to give books. Consider making a book "wish list," carefully selecting books that you don't already have and that you know both you and your child will enjoy reading together. Encourage gift-givers to inscribe the books with the date and messages for your child, which make each book feel more special every time you read it. These gifts will not break next week or end up forgotten at the bottom of a toy box by February; you'll keep coming back to them throughout the year and beyond.

Happy Holidays, and happy reading together!

Alice Callahan, Ph.D.

Alice Callahan earned a Ph.D. in Nutrition from UC Davis (2008), followed by more than two years of postdoctoral training in fetal development at the University of Arizona. She blogs about parenting with science and love at ScienceofMom.com, and her book on the same topic will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2015.