Just in time for World Book Day, award-winning children’s author Cressida Cowell and writer of the popular book series How to Train Your Dragon, gives us some brilliant advice on how to foster a long lasting love of books and flair for creative writing in our children. It may seem an unlikely feat sometimes but give these expert tips a go and watch their love for all things literary blossom!
Top tips to get your child to read for pleasure 📚
- When they are learning to read, listen to them read in the morning over breakfast rather than in the evening after school, because both you and your child will have more patience in the morning
- Don’t make them finish a book they’re really not enjoying
- Find books they WILL enjoy. Describe your kid and ask for advice from librarians, assistants in bookshops, other parents, about books that are sure get your kid hooked!
- Read a couple of chapters of a very exciting book (preferably the first of a series) and then when your child is desperate to know what happens next, say you have something very important to do downstairs, so they have to continue to read it on their own
- Listen to audio tapes in the car
- Have a reading time for them every night
How can we inspire our children to love writing?
✏️ Well, to start with, inspire them to start from a young age and encourage them to keep going throughout their childhood and make them appreciate that writing is important for their adult lives. I don’t mean just writing stories but writing anything at all! It doesn’t matter if they don’t finish writing the stories, as long as they’re practising their own stories as much as they possibly can and creating something unique.
✏️ Ask them to make up stories about people they know. Some children may struggle to come up with characters’ names and personalities, so to resolve this encourage them to write about their favourite characters from TV or film – or perhaps one of their friends or family.
✏️ Reading books to a child is a great way of sparking their imagination, even to an older child. Once children learn to read, you could be tempted to let them get on with it, but if you read a book with a child, you’re enjoying the book with them. You’re sending a message that books are important, reading is important, and therefore writing is important.
✏️ Of course grammar is essential later in life, but I can’t emphasise enough that grammar can’t and shouldn’t prevent creativity. Quite simply, if a child starts their creative writing by thinking they have to be perfect, they won’t express themselves in the way they want to.
✏️ Enter competitions. I am a testament to the positive impact they can have on a child’s confidence so when you see any writing competitions, encourage them to enter! You never know that competitive element might bring out the best in them!
What advice would you give kids who would like to become writers?
My top writing tip would be to read lots – this will give you a feel for the way different stories can be told. Also practice writing as much as you can – write, and re-write – don’t worry if you don’t finish a story, as long as you are practising, that’s what matters. Also, don’t worry about your spelling, your grammar, or your handwriting. Don’t even worry about finishing. Just write!
What advice would you offer to parents who want to encourage their kids to love books?
Reading a book with a child, even an older child, is the most important thing you can do for improving literacy and communication skills: books read to a child in their parent’s voice will live with them forever. Sharing a book with your child, whatever their age, communicates how important books are. I read aloud with my children, even now they’re older, both picture books and older books, and we also listen to audio books in the car. I take them to libraries, bookshops and second-hand bookshops. Libraries and second-hand bookshops are particularly good for children experimenting and trying books that they might not have expected to like… I think it’s also vitally important for children to see their parents reading so they know that it’s a lifelong enjoyment.
How did you encourage your children to read at a young age?
I have lots of fond memories of reading wonderful picture books with my children. Sharing books from an early age signals that they are important, something worth spending time on. I’m especially fond of Dr Seuss books, such as The Lorax and Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You? They both have a rolling rhythm which propels you through the story, and The Lorax, in particular, demonstrates that even books for very young children can have a strong message: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot/Nothing is going to get better, it’s not’. You have a heart of stone if you’re not moved by this book!
Other favourites to read my children were Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Mick Inkpen books and many more… Did you know that Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon started as a picture book character?