Reading Together Day: Cressida Cowell's 10 top tips for sharing stories

Published on: 15 July 2020 Author: Cressida Cowell

Sharing books and stories with your children can be so special - but what if you feel a bit nervous about doing it?

Don't worry - author and Waterstones Children's Laureate Cressida Cowell is here to share her 10 top tips with you...

We know from study after study that reading for the joy of it gives children long-term benefits, and reading aloud, together, can be a joyful experience for everyone.

That every child has the right to be read aloud to is point six on my Waterstones Children's Laureate Charter, and I would encourage parents and teachers to read with children far beyond the age they can read for themselves.

Books read to you in an adult's voice live with you all your life: I remember every book read out loud to me by a parent or a teacher. If a book makes your mum laugh or your dad cry, it shows that books and reading are important and powerful. Books can be part of a shared family language that lives on far beyond childhood.

I empathise very strongly with tired parents after a long day, because I have been in that situation with three young children! But if you can do those ten minutes, you will get the rewards, I promise...

An illustration of a mother and child reading together

Illustration: Erika Meza

1. Start the habit early

Even when your kid can't understand the words, they are listening to the sound of your voice, and it's an enjoyable and comforting experience for them. They might just be chewing the book, but that's okay.

You'll notice that books for the very young are often bold and bright, because babies find it easier to see contrasting colours. Sit them close to you, and let them feel the book and 'help' you turn the page.

2. 10 minutes a day: go for little and often!

It's so hard when you're absolutely knackered, but if you can manage to find just 10 minutes a day, and make reading a part of your routine (like with Bath, Book, Bed) it makes a real difference.

3. Read together even when your kid can read independently

Kids are often smarter than their reading ability allows them to access. You can open up imaginative worlds for them that they might not be able to read by themselves for another year or two.

4. Do the silly voices!

I write my books to be read aloud, which is why in How to Train Your Dragon the Vikings have big booming voices. Bonus points if you really go for it and make a fool of yourself: your kid will appreciate it...

5. Be led by your kid's interests

If they get bored, you can stop. Books shouldn't be made to feel like another chore - this is all about the joy of it.

6. Use your local library or local bookshop to help find new books

Where libraries aren't open, they are still offering books online. And join the Summer Reading Challenge. Again, the key is enjoyment!

7. Skip bits if you want to

I have to confess I did this regularly with some of the classics which have long passages of description...

8. If you're reading chapter books, end on a cliff hanger sometimes...

It might just tempt your children into reading on when you're not there!

9. Audiobooks still count

Language is the pathway of thought, and if you're listening to a book on audio, you're still getting the language. I'm lucky enough to have my books read by David Tennant, and so many families tell me that's been their saviour on long car journeys

10. Use technology to help you out

I've seen lots of families doing Zoom storytimes recently, which can be lovely for grandparents who are missing seeing their grandchildren at the moment. And teachers have so much on their plate, but I've been inspired by how many heroic teachers are continuing with class reading via video conferencing!

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