I love this season. I love that so many cultures have holidays this time of year, when it’s cold and the nights are darkest and we’re most in need of shared light and warmth.
It’s hard to pick a favorite CLiF event, but our holiday family events for Year of the Book communities are right up there. The program is rooted in the brilliant A Book on Every Bed campaign developed by our buddies at Ithaca, NY’s Family Reading Partnership and popularized by advice columnist (or for NPR listeners, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me panelist) Amy Dickinson.
At these events the whole community comes together. Parents and children gather at the school for a common cause. We get to see the kids we serve within the contexts of their families, and parents get to see us and understand how CLiF helps their kids.
It can be hard to get a family out for an evening event — especially when it’s a school night, it’s cold, family time is limited, and going out requires gas in the car. Here’s what we offer to get families in the door:
- Free pizza and salad for everyone
- A parent seminar on reading aloud — learning and idea-sharing time for parents
- Free childcare while the parents are in the seminar
- Parents select two free books for each of their children (these become the books on every bed)
- On-the-spot gift wrapping by volunteers
- A story, which accomplishes two goals: fun for kids and models storytelling techniques for parents who aren’t strong readers
Free dinner and free presents? That’s good. But my favorite part is when the parents talk about their own successes, struggles, joys, and strategies reading with their families.
Recently in Albany, VT, one mom talked about trying something new. “When I first started doing voices, my son looked at me and said, ‘Mom, what are you doing?'” she said. All the other parents laughed. She continued, “I said, ‘I’m trying to make it fun for you!’ And as he got used to it he started to like it, and then he would join in.”
One dad, Brian, said, “Even when they’re running around the room, just keep reading. They gravitate back, and they develop a longer attention span.”
Parents get it: reading is a lifelong gift. It’s just that some families have a hard time affording books, and some parents are a little self-conscious about their own literacy skills. Some parents were never read to themselves when they were kids. This is where CLiF helps. All parents know there’s no better feeling than cuddling up with your kid. And reading is way better when it’s fun.
Later, I asked Brian’s son Logan if he liked books.
“No, I like toys!” he said.
Brian asked, “But do you like to read with me?”
“Yes!” shouted Logan.
“I wing it, mostly,” Brian told me. He described reading together in the dark with a flashlight and selecting books based on Logan’s interests–like sharks and dinosaurs. “He loves maps, so we’ll draw a map and fill in words on the map. I just use their strong points. You’ve got to listen to them, you know what I mean?”
Logan does not yet know he’ll find a huge, colorful book all about sharks on his bed first thing Christmas morning. But he and his dad both know that pizza is delicious, sharks are fascinating, and the holidays are better when you have someone you love and a new book you’re excited to share with them.