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Giving the gift of literacy this season

The holidays bring on a heightened sense of giving and receiving of gifts to mark a part of Christmas traditions celebrated across the world.For many families with children and adolescents the focus is often on that special toy or popular electronic gadget that is sure to please. Among the festivities and gift giving Christmas is an opportune time for families to focus on the one gift that is priceless, non-returnable, and always fashionable, offering a lifetime of opportunities if shared generously. This is the gift of literacy! Each year highlighting this precious gift rings with excitement because there is no end to how the community, schools and families can give this gift.There are numerous requests from charities for donations of presents and food hampers for children, families, the incarcerated and hospital bound. Here is where as a community we can all reinforce our values towards the joys of reading by ensuring our donations include books, magazines, library subscriptions and most importantly time to read to persons who may not know how to read or who will just appreciate hearing the language of stories and visualising the details of events in the plot of stories.We can consider stocking our prisons and hospitals with current magazines and new books that will demonstrate our appreciation of reading. Why not go into the hospitals over the month of December (and throughout the year) and demonstrate the importance of reading to babies to new mothers and give them a few books to read to their babies.Every child this Christmas season should expect to receive at least one book that has been carefully selected to peak interest and be required to read it. Browse books with children and show them how to evaluate if a book could be a good read. Discuss book covers, flaps, illustrations, print layout in addition to topic and this will give them a real experience of how to select a book as a present.A great way to incorporate book sharing is with Secret Santa. Each child can be required to give a book to a friend and share why the particular book was selected and should be read. This serves the purposes of previewing or reading of a book and instilling a sense of curiosity to read a book specifically selected as a gift.It should also be an expectation that children should be buying books and magazines for their families and friends. Let them know what you are interested in reading so that they pick just the right topic for enjoying over the holidays. Even with electronic books (iPads, Nooks, etc), this is an opportunity to use these gadgets to curl up around the fireplace or in bed and to read aloud-popular stories, using the animations, the enlarged print that can be easily manipulated, and the research capabilities for a wider selection of stories to read that these electronic books offer.Schools can use the approaching holiday season to teach the children about the symbols behind the Christmas season. We often assume they know what Christmas symbols but even I was pleasantly surprised to find out recently what the symbol of the green fir tree represents. The pure green colour of the stately fir tree remains green all year representing everlasting hope of mankind. Also, that the wreath symbolises the real nature of love, that real love never ceases and has no beginning or end.The symbol of the Santa Claus symbolises the generosity and kindness we feel during the month of December. Other popular symbols that children can research are the holly leaf (mistletoe), the gift, the sugar cane, angel and bell. How do they all tie into the true meaning of Christmas and teach us values? These Christmas symbols are great for writing, debating and doing shared readings as children prepare to celebrate the holidays.Christmas is also a time when we can involve our children in the authentic literacy activities that we do to prepare for the holidays. We bake and cook more, write Christmas cards, shopping lists and decorate our homes to ensure a good time for all. Our children can be encouraged to read recipes and measure ingredients, hand-write Christmas cards and plan the family Christmas menu. This is also a good opportunity for our children to create Christmas programmes for churches, schools and even the family dinner.There is no better gift to give and receive than the gift of literacy. It is our personal value of this gift that will determine if we share it extensively with our children, family, friends, schools and community. Happy holidays and enjoy your gift of literacy.