Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

What is your family doing over winter break? If your answer isn’t “going on a cruise” or something similarly fabulous, we’re in the same boat (metaphorically only, alas). To make the most of time at home with kids during vacation, we’ve found it helpful to brainstorm activities beforehand. In this article, we look at reading activities to fill your winter break with sweet, old-fashioned, educational fun. And, truth be told, in the end, meaningful, quality time and special memories with our little ones may be even better than a trip. 

Help Your Child Write Cards and Letters 

Writing and reading go hand in hand, and the holidays are a great moment to reach out and touch someone’s heart. Help your child pen holiday cards or a letter to a relative far away, a neighbor, or even a senior citizen in a nursing home—there are nonprofit organizations that connect willing pen pals with isolated seniors. (Read our article on how to help your child write to a senior.)

Your child of any age will get to practice writing; if they’re not writing independently, just have them draw a picture and then help them write their name or form a simple message. Then, they can practice reading if they get a response. In the process, they’ll learn a valuable lesson about caring for others, connection, and infusing the holidays with a meaning beyond (just) getting gifts!

If you celebrate Christmas, don’t forget to write to Santa, too! Allowing time for your child to write down their own Christmas wish list and make a note for Santa are fun and festive ways to fill their winter vacation days with literacy practice. If you have an Elf on the Shelf, encourage your child to write to the Elf, too—and then make sure the Elf writes back. Read about why writing letters to your Elf on the Shelf is so good for kids, and get tips for starting this new tradition.

Plan a Bookstore and Cafe Date

Some of my favorite memories from growing up involve going to a bookstore—often a used one—and a cafe. We’d browse for a long time, checking out all the lovely reads. Finally, we’d pick one, or maybe two, books to buy. Then we’d take our new treasures to a cafe, where we would read, talk, sip warmly delicious drinks, and (as it turns out) make lasting memories. 

When my son turned six years old, we started a new birthday tradition of going on a bookstore and cafe date together. We snuggled up at the cafe and I read aloud to him for hours. It was a welcome break for both of us and a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

So this winter break, why not invite your child on a special outing? Pick a local, independent bookstore, preferably one with a great used section. Encourage them to browse around for a long time. Take time to show them books you like, explore new reads together, and enjoy the books yourself. When it comes time to buy, though, follow their interests—no matter how hard it is. (If necessary, buy one kids’ book they choose and one you choose!) 

Then head to the nearest cafe and hang out together. Do whatever it takes (well, almost) to make it a fun, happy outing. If their attention span runs out, no problem. Cut the outing short. If they get involved in a new chapter book and lunchtime rolls around, splurge on a cafe lunch. Throughout, keep the smiles, giggles, and snuggles flowing. Money saving tip: Funds can be extra tight this time of year. If you’re looking to save money, find a nice library to go “shopping” at instead. Some libraries even have cafes inside!

Read a Book and then Watch the Movie

From Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to The Grinch, there’s no shortage of holiday books that have been made into movies. This break, try spending some quality family time by choosing a book to read together and then watching the movie (or even the play). 

You don’t have to stick to holiday reads and films, either. There are so many classics of literature, old and new, that have been brought to the silver screen. Just pick something that fits your family’s tastes. If you want to read a longer book, keep in mind that even younger kids can understand texts well above their reading level if you read them out loud. Tip: Look for versions of chapter books that are adapted for younger readers.

The advantage of this activity is that it doesn’t pit reading and screen time against each other, as is so often the case in the juggling act of family time-management. Instead, it creates a fun way for them to coexist as two sides of the same (fun) coin. If the book-to-movie activity is a hit, you can even form a family books-and-movies club, and plan to read and then watch new works regularly.

Brainstorm and Write New Year’s Resolutions

Another winter break activity for kids that naturally sparks more writing practice is the age-old habit of making New Year’s resolutions. It’s also a tradition that encourages reflection and creates space to explore your child’s thinking and help them develop their intentions.

With the new year looming, explain to your child the idea of resolutions, then brainstorm together what some of theirs might be. Feel free to give them examples of your own resolutions, but also ask plenty of open-ended questions. If kids feel free to come up with their own ideas, without judgment from you, they’ll be more engaged. Here are some of our New Year’s resolutions to help get your inspiration flowing.

Once they’ve got the concept, hand kids a pad of paper and a pencil and help them write down their resolutions for the year. You can even ask them to transcribe some family resolutions that you come up with together. 

Going somewhere?

Of course, if you are going on that cruise or another fabulous getaway, you can still fit some great reading activities into your winter break. From big vacations to quick day trips, travel is a beautiful way to spend time together over the holidays. And anywhere you go with your child, there are so many ways to infuse reading and learning into the experience. 

If you take a plane, train, or any public transportation together, that offers an easy moment to fit in some reading aloud to your child. Even in the car, I often read books out loud to my kids when I’m not the driver. (Tip: Hold the book up in front of your face to avoid getting motion sickness!) And keep in mind, reading out loud is NOT just for preschoolers. In past eras, adults would often read out loud to entertain a group. Plus, reading aloud to older children and even adolescents can be a fantastic opportunity to expand their horizons by sharing something that they wouldn’t read on their own—from different types of literature to engaging nonfiction.

If you are the driver, throw on an audiobook. We’ve got picks for great audiobooks for toddlers and audiobooks for preschoolers (as well as awesome story podcasts for kids), but there are also audiobooks for older kids that will engage the whole family, helping you pass the time happily, too. 

Or just play any of these fun word games with your child. You’ll also want to check out these educational road trip games for kids and Maya’s tips and tricks for making travel with kids extra educational. (If you’re visiting with family, you may also want to check out this article on using books to prepare kids for time with grandparents and other relatives.)

Have a Holiday Book Flood

In Iceland, there’s a wonderful holiday tradition called Jolabokaflod, which means “Christmas book flood.” It’s all about giving, receiving, and reading books as a way to celebrate the holidays. Read all about it in this article and get tips for starting your family’s own Jolabokaflod tradition.

Browse our Kids Books section for ideas of great reads to add to your flood, including great winter holiday books by black authors. You’ll also find curated lists of picture books about sports and science, funny reads, books for teens, and lots of other themed collections.

Books make great holiday gifts and a relatively low-cost way to add some novelty to your child’s vacation days. Still, there’s no need to break the bank. You can always hit up your library for a stack of books to read over break, then buy just a couple favorites to add to your permanent shelf. 

Go on a Reading Picnic

Another treasured set of memories from my own childhood involves sprawling on a picnic blanket, sipping hot tea or chocolate from a thermos, snacking on all kinds of picnic foods, and enjoying a book. Sometimes, we read to ourselves; other times, we listened to a story read aloud as we watched the clouds drift overhead or scrutinized the miniature world taking place among the blades of grass. Always, the sense of togetherness and getting carried away by a story infused the moments with magic. 

Where I live, we often have mild days in winter that are perfect for a short hike and delicious picnic, especially provided some hot beverages are involved to keep us warm. But if your area isn’t delivering the picnicking weather, no problem. Pack up a basket or bag, pull out a picnic blanket, and have an indoor picnic in front of a fire or even under a play tent. 

Then snuggle together and read to your heart’s content. It will keep the cold (and the worries of the world) at bay—promise.

Get Crafty

Of course, arts and crafts are another time-honored pastime with young kids, especially around holiday times. And we have so many great literacy activities to do with little ones, including some awesome holiday and winter-themed printables and crafts. 

Check out our many winter and Christmas-themed activities, including this cute holiday lights word game and this educational snowman craft.

Have fun!

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