It’s that time of year again. The air is much colder, the days are shorter, the nights are longer and the busy festive season is creeping up on us all. Even though holiday time can be fun and exciting, it can also bring extra stress for adults and children. During a busy and stressful time, it’s important to take a few minutes out from the chaos and spend some quality time with the people you love.

The best gift we can give children is time and our attention. Spending time singing, reading and rhyming is a great way to help ease some of the stress and pressure of the season, pass the time and stay emotionally connected. It will also help set the foundations for later learning.

When we spend time cuddled in and chatting or sharing a story, children feel loved and valued and important. For families, it’s a great way to bond and get to know each other. For parents this time can also be that few minutes where we get the opportunity to relax, sit down and take a few minutes out of our day. Sharing stories, songs and rhymes and doing things together, helps families to connect and tune into how each other thinks and feels. Learning to see the world from another person’s point of view is also an important part of developing empathy and our ability to get along with others. Feeling important and valued will have a positive effect on our self-esteem and the way we see ourselves, and this confidence will support our overall learning.

Children learn through play, conversation and interaction. As the colder weather keeps us cosy inside, this is a great time to cuddle up with stories, songs, rhymes and imaginative play. Books provide lots of great inspiration for play. You could act out the story or use the pages of the book to play I-spy. If children don’t want to sit for a story, use the book as a tool to start a conversation. Look at the pictures and talk about what you see and what might be happening.

Reading and singing is effectively home learning. Sharing these activities in the early years of parenting can lead to improved vocabulary and problem solving ability at age three, according to the Growing Up In Scotland (2015) survey, and this is independent of economic and social factors.

Most importantly though, sharing stories, songs and rhymes can be a fun way to spend time together. Don’t worry about a right way or a wrong way to do it – just do what feels best for your family. You can be silly and creative, make up your own words to songs or stories and really just enjoy yourselves.

Tracy Cooper is the Early Years Development Manager at Scottish Book Trust. Tracy and her two-year-old like to sing the Little Green Frog song and read You Choose or 10 Little Pirates.