Beginning on December 1st, I let my preschool daughters take turns selecting one present a day to unwrap and read. Sometimes we opened and read the book first thing in the morning, sometimes before naptime, and sometimes it was the last thing we did before bedtime. Most of the days, we loved the books. Some of the days, we decided that a particular book didn't need to make a return appearance in coming years. All in all, this book present tradition was definitely in the top five of favorite things we did to celebrate the Christmas holiday AND it didn't cost me a thing!
I should add that it ALMOST cost me quite a bit of money when we accidentally over-watered our tree and discovered several wet packages! Thankfully, I was able to carefully dry the pages of the books and there was no visible water damage! WHEW!!!
I have been thinking of what this tradition might look like in the elementary classroom and I have an idea I am excited to try. We all know that the final week or two before the holidays can be very stressful as teachers conduct assessments, wrap up semester grades, plan for holiday presentations and celebrations, and TRY to squeeze in some productive learning. This stress has historically led to the use of the infamous holiday-themed worksheet packet. Because nothing says "Christmas" like doing a word search, right?
I am always crusading for more independent, self-selected reading time in the school day so I am thinking that these pre-holiday weeks might provide the perfect time to recoup those minutes that have been previously undiscovered so far this semester. So here's my idea:
- Collect enough holiday gift bags so that you have one for each student in your class. DON'T BUY ANY! If you don't already have 25 more than you need in your guest closet, I am sure that your neighbor or grandmother does!
- Have a conversation with your students about gift giving. Share some examples of how you go about selecting the gifts that you will be giving to friends and family. What are some of the things that you consider about that person such as their interests, dislikes, abilities, etc.?
- Place the name of every student in a jar. Have each student draw one name. Remind them beforehand that there will be no visible demonstrations of disgust or disappointment with the name they have drawn! ¡No se van a casar! :) And, they can't tell whose name they have drawn yet! Now, tell them that they are going to pick out a gift for this person based on his/her interests, dislikes, and abilities and they will pick out this gift from the classroom library or the school library.
- Now...here is where the magic of authentic reading and writing overrides whatever minutes of peace you may think you are gaining by passing out that gigantic worksheet packet. Have your students select 3-5 books that they think are good options for the name they drew. They will need to read (even picture-reading counts!) through all of the books and carefully consider which is THE BEST choice. All of this must be done in utter silence because gift selection must be secretive and a surprise (Shhhhh....)!
- Give each student a gift bag and a blank label. They should place the book in the bag and label To/Para: _________ From/De: ____________.
- At your designated time of the day, the big reveal can commence. Simply have students deliver the gifts to the appropriate desks. Everyone opens their presents and enjoys a little reading time and reflecting on why that particular book was specifically selected for him/her.
- Don't forget! Every good gift deserves a Thank You Note!!! Share a thank-you note you have written for a gift and remind students of the important qualities of a note such as naming the specific gift (title of book) and explaining why you are grateful for that gift (an opportunity to infer why the giver selected this gift for you).
- And, finally, every good thing deserves repeating! This same process can easily be repeated another two or three times up until the holiday break. Just put the names back in the jar and regift the bags. The reward? Authentic opportunities for readers and writers to celebrate the spirit of giving!
I would love to know if you think this would work with your own students! Also, I would love to know your ideas for avoiding the dreaded 1" packet this holiday season!