“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” — Walt Disney
We’ve talked about how important it is to model a love of reading for your children, and to show that reading is valued in your home. One way to do this is through creating treasure bags with your child.
A treasure bag is simply a bag that your child can use to carry his or her “stack” of books. For a younger child who is reading picture books, you would want them to carry anywhere from seven to ten books in the treasure bag at all times. Children who are reading chapter books can have two to three in their bags, and they may also want to mix in a picture book or two as well. These books can be exchanged from either your home or public library at a set interval of time (for example, every Monday.) See below for an explanation of the importance of keeping the same books for a set period of time.
Creating Your Treasure Bags
This is a cost-effective project that you can make as crafty or as simple as your personality desires! I started with a blank canvas bag from Hobby Lobby, but you could use something as simple as a reusable shopping bag. (You do want to make sure your bag is made of a material that can take a little wear and tear, as books can be heavy and your plan is to allow your child to tote these along with them.) Have a special moment where you celebrate with your child that they are old enough now to get a treasure bag, and make one for yourself if you don’t already have one!
Two important elements on your treasure bag decorations are: 1- Your child’s name and 2- pictures or designs that they love. For example, if your child loves basketball, let him or her draw pictures of basketballs on the book bag.
You can create a simple design with markers on the canvas bags, or you can get creative and iron or glue on objects. Just make sure that anything you glue on is large enough that your child, or another child, cannot choke on them if they fall off.
Filling Your Treasure Bags
This is another opportunity to get excited with your child about reading! You may want to say something like “I am SO EXCITED that today we are going to get to fill your book bags with books for you to read all week from the library!” Give your child a certain number of books to look for (again, I recommend 7-10 for a young child, 2-3 if your child is into chapter books) and allow them to “shop” for books that interest them.
Allow your children to choose books they are interested in. Give them the opportunity to explore multiple genres so they can discover what they enjoy reading. Take them to the non-fiction and the fiction section. Talk about what the differences are, and suggest they choose books from both parts of the library. It is okay for children to choose 1-2 books that are too easy or too hard for them, but make sure they have 3-4 books that are on their “just right” level. An easy way to discover what books are just right for them is to open the book, let them read a page or two, and if they stumble over more than five words, it may be too hard. Again, that doesn’t mean they can’t choose this book, but make sure they choose a few that are also “just right.” Teach your kids how to examine the appropriateness of the book by having conversations as you count the words they cannot immediately identify, so that after you have repeated this process for a few weeks, children should be able to determine what books are just right for them without your assistance. This is a process I used in my first grade classroom, so students as young as six years old are able to do this if they are taught how.
A child’s first instinct is to read through a book, put it away, and choose a new one. The problem with this habit is that the child misses many opportunities offered by the book by only reading it once. If your child has 7-10 picture books as we previously mentioned that they read repeatedly for a week, the benefits are:
- Opportunities to familiarize themselves with sight words- becoming familiar with the text helps associate a spoken word to the written word, which grows your child’s sight word base
- Opportunities to build fluency- The more familiar your child is with a text, the more he or she is able to read it at a normal talking speed, which is our goal for reading speed. Repeated readings build fluency.
- Opportunities for deeper comprehension- Just as watching a movie more than once brings deeper reflection and understanding of the complexities, reading a book multiple times offers the same benefit. One of our goals of comprehension is to make connections to other texts or to our own lives. The first time a child reads a text they may be focused on decoding more than comprehending, and so the additional readings open up his or her thought capacities to make these deep connections and applications.
Loving Your Treasure Bags
Find at least 20 minutes a day for your children to spend reading his or her treasure bag. Allow them to find a cozy place in the house where they love to read, and take the opportunity to model reading yourself during this time if possible. Make this a special time… read together, sit together and read independently, sit in a hammock or on the porch swing, sit under a dark desk and read with a flashlight, or cuddle down in bed.
The Value of Treasure Bags
I’m going to venture to say that in my opinion, time spent in independent reading may be the most important variable in helping grow your children’s reading skills. The treasure bag is a method for making it exciting for children, giving the opportunity to choose what they read, and for encouraging repeated reading of texts. It may seem that this is trivial, but if you are serious about improving your children’s reading skills, I believe this is foundational. If you choose to use this time to read along with your children, (especially on those books that they choose that are a little too hard for them to read independently) it is a great opportunity to teach decoding and comprehension skills as well.
If you decide to take this step towards building strong reading skills in your child, please send us a picture of your treasure bag or of your children reading from their bag. We can’t wait to hear about the growth your child is going to make simply from this fun task.
Happy reading and treasure bag decorating!