Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Traditions are one of the best parts of the holidays. The beloved dog-eared picture books, recipes passed down from generation to generation, special activities and crafts … the list could go on and on! But, this year, what if you added some new traditions to the list that also spark a deeper love of reading and support literacy? 

At MayaSmart.com, we’re always looking for ways to incorporate literacy into everyday life. From reading recipes together in the kitchen to sneaking spelling practice into crafts, we believe a consistent, simple approach is key to raising strong readers. There’s no need to break the bank on curriculum or have a degree in education—you already have everything you need to support literacy in your home!

That’s why we curated eight easy ways you can do just that over the holiday season. Keep the magic of the holidays and make special memories with your children while supporting literacy at the same time. Win, win, win!

Transform Your Elf on the Shelf into a Magical Pen Pal

Elf on the Shelf has found its way into millions of American homes and become a beloved modern-day Christmas tradition. However, it can also create a hole. Because the elf is purportedly there to report on kids’ behavior, and that behavior leads to getting gifts, a child’s relationship with the elf can tilt away from Christmas values such as charity, togetherness, and love. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By corresponding with your elf via letter, you can transform a behavior modification tool into a tool for social-emotional learning, family bonding, and literacy!  

Buy Gifts that Spark a Love of Reading

Finding the perfect Christmas gift that’s fun and purposeful can feel impossible. So we’re making your holiday shopping just a little bit easier. We’ve compiled a list of 14 terrific educational gifts for preschoolers that will become household favorites the whole year through. These fabulous gifts spark early learning and a love of reading in your child. And best of all? None of them sing or have flashing lights.

Try a New Tradition

If you’ve been searching for fun and rewarding Christmas traditions for kids—and grown-ups— maybe it’s time to take a page from Iceland’s favorite national festivity: Jolabokaflod. The Icelandic Yule is a celebration of reading and simple pleasures. On Christmas Eve, each member of the family receives a book then snuggles in for a night of reading and sipping hot chocolate. 

To help you start your own Jolabokaflod, we share the history behind this literary holiday and tips for recreating it in your home. 

Bake Together

Baking or cooking with your children sounds heartwarming in theory, but can be very messy and stressful in reality. That’s why we developed Read with Me Recipes—a series of kid-friendly snacks and meals that are super easy to make with kids. 

And we’re presenting them in a format that’s also easy to read with kids. Think simple words and short sentences that will set your little one up for success. The idea is for you to print out the recipe and then read it with your child as you prepare a simple, frustration-free dish together. 

This holiday season, try our DIY Christmas ornament recipe to make some special memories with your child while getting in some reading practice at the same time. 

(This ornament isn’t edible, but if you’re looking for a kid-approved snack, don’t miss our other other Read with Me Recipes.) 

Tackle Tricky Words with This Holiday Craft

Kids learn through playing. And what better way to practice reading and spelling than with a fun holiday-themed craft?  

One of the big stumbling blocks for kids learning to read is the multitude of spelling variations in the English language. Take the letter combinations IGH and IGHT. No child attempting to sound these out would guess that they indicate a long i sound (or, in combination with E or A, a long a sound), yet they do. 

While thankfully these spelling patterns only feature in a relatively small selection of words, they’re found in some very common ones—and some very festive ones. This holiday lights craft and reading game takes advantage of seasonal words from light and bright to neigh and sleigh to highlight these unusual letter combinations. 

Stuff Stockings with Crafts that Support Literacy

Creating homemade presents can be the perfect way to indulge in the best of the season while avoiding its excesses, and ones that engage children and inspire learning will bring out their best, as well.  

So why not complement a few choice store-bought items with these lovely literacy-supporting DIY gifts? We’ve selected six cute reading- and writing-themed projects that you can make or upcycle from a few simple materials, plus we’ve created a free printable set of color-your-own Christmas bookmarks. Then let the stocking-stuffing begin!

Share Great Holiday Picture Books

Every family has their personal favorite tales and books they pull out year after year. Traditions are a wonderful part of the holiday season. But what if, this year, you added some new books to your mix, to become new traditions, too?

If you look at many of the classic American Christmas books, they’re written by white authors. Christmas is a holiday that includes families of every race and ethnicity, so shouldn’t the holiday books we read our children? Black children deserve to see themselves in books and stories, and non-black children need to see how Christmas in the United States truly looks. 

We curated a list of eight favorites, plus some other lovely winter holiday books by black authors, for you to add to your reading traditions.

Build Vocabulary with this DIY Christmas Flipbook 

What child doesn’t love Christmas? This free Christmas printable takes advantage of holiday enthusiasm to build your child’s vocabulary and help them learn to recognize, read, and spell new words. Fun holiday words, that is, of course!

With twenty-six seasonal words and illustrations from A to Z, this easy DIY will become a holiday staple. 

What are your favorite holiday traditions that support reading? We’d love to hear from you!