Sunday / July 21

Giving the Gift of Experiences

My mom was a believer in experiences. While I couldn’t detail the gifts I received over the years, I can still recall the scent of melting wax that we poured into sand candles and the roar of jet engines above the long-shuttered O’Hare Airport observation deck. My husband and I have tried to carry on the tradition of giving experiences to friends, family, and to our daughter.

In my classroom, I value the experiences that I share with my young learners. I remind myself that playing in the first snow of winter or reading aloud the latest book by Mo Willems (I Lost my Tooth) are valuable learning experiences. If you’re looking for a special present for someone in your circle or an idea for your classroom, ponder the possibility of giving the gift of an experience. In this post, I’ll share a few picture book-inspired ideas to get you started.

Share Stories

I recently saw storyteller and author Carmen Agra Deedy speak. She shared that she had recorded her father telling stories of his days in Cuba. Now that he’s passed, Carmen treasures those recordings. When I heard Carmen’s story, I thought of the pages in Samantha Berger and Mike Curato’s What if . . . that read, “If I had nothing, but still had my mind . . . There’d always be stories to seek and to find.” What family stories could you or your students seek, find, record, and share?

While we’re on the subject of sharing stories, let’s not forget the most important and lasting experience—reading aloud. In her book Mousie, I Will Read to You, Rachel Cole shows how simple acts like reading, talking, and singing help form bonds and raise readers. It’s a must-have book for new parents and reading aloud is a must-do ritual in your classroom. For more ideas to help you share stories, you can find 101 classroom or library-read read-aloud experiences in my book The Ramped-Up Read Aloud.

Be a Maker

The basement of my childhood was a makerspace decades before that term was coined. Along with sand candles, we painted rocks and latch-hooked rugs. Whether with your students or your own children, spending time creating is another memory-making experience.

Take inspiration from Ruth Spiro’s Made by Maxine and have an upcycling day. Kids can bring in old items from home and create something new out of them. Holly Hatam’s illustrations are brimming with ideas. If you have a lot of boxes empty around your house, give one to each family member or student. Read What to Do with a Box by Jane Yolen and pose a box challenge. To preserve this memory, take photos of the box-based creations. If you have budding scientists in your life, conduct a simple experiment. Read aloud Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes to give children ideas for how to ask questions, observe, and record their findings.

Slow Down, Do Nothing!

In Margaret Wild’s The Sloth Who Slowed Us Down, Amy brings a sloth to a household where, “There was never any time to talk or play or laugh or laze . . .” Now, I’m not suggesting that you bring a sloth home or to your classroom! Instead, I’m advocating for a day, or even an afternoon, of moving through school or life at a sloth-like pace. Set aside time to talk, play, laugh, and laze! Similarly, inspired by Beatrice Alemagna’s book On a Magical Do-Nothing Day you could turn off the screens and go outside for a nice long walk or recess.

Sarah Jacoby’s debut picture book Forever or a Day explores the passage of time and reminds us that “We’ve only got what we’ve got.” So why not spend the time you’ve got doing something enjoyable with kids?

Picture Books Highlighted

Alemagna, B. (2016). On a magical do-nothing day. New York: HarperCollins.

Cole, R. (2018). Mousie, I will read to you. (M. Crowton, Illus.). New York: Schwartz & Wade.

Derting, K., & Johannes, S. R. (2018). Cece loves science. (V. Harrison, Illus.). New York: Greenwillow.

Berger, S. (2018). What if . . . (M. Curato, Illus.). New York: Little, Brown.

Jacoby, S. (2018). Forever or a day. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.

Spiro, R. (2018). Made by Maxine. (H. Hatam, Illus.). New York: Dial.

Wild, M. (2017). The sloth who slowed us down. (V. To, Illus.). New York: Abrams.

Willems, M. (2018). I lost my tooth. New York: Disney/Hyperion.

Yolen, J. (2016). What to do with a box (C. Sheban, Illus.). New York: Creative Editions.

Written by

Maria Walther is a first-grade teacher in Aurora, IL. She’s been spending her days with children since 1986. She was honored as Illinois Reading Educator of the Year and earned the ICARE for Reading Award for fostering the love of reading in children. Before partnering with the Corwin team, she co-authored five professional books and the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment with Scholastic. Learn more about her books at and follow her on Twitter @mariapwalther.

Latest comment

  • “Helping Educators Do Their Work Better

    I am an educator and a writer, and also very concerned about the upcoming generations of children that are not motivated and can’t read well. I have written a book called, Lightning’s Way to motivate young people to love reading and become excited about words! Words are awesome and children will be inspired to learn thousands of new words and having fun!! The page numbers of Lightning’s Way are written in French and each books pages numbers are written in different languages. Lightning’s Way also provides practical hands-on materials because I have ideas for creating pop-outs, that each child will be able to Manipulate and utilize while completing exciting activities that correlate to the 12 Language Arts concepts that will be taught . Each book was designed to provide young learners choices and the ability to have control of their own learning, My book also teaches young and advanced readers over hundreds of sight words that are imperative for young learners to be successful in reading. Lightning’s Way is the first book of a series of 5 that exposes PreK through third grade with a series of Big Books while the students each have a small book .Lightning’s Way was also created to teach young children about a plethora of storms possibly to introduce a unit on Weather,.
    I would be so privileged if I could speak with someone who could just listen to my ideas
    Kathy Wolfe. 440-319-7355
    11301 villa grande
    North Royalton,Ohio

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