Many parents are very familiar with the importance of the nightly bedtime story. Spending that special one-on-one time with your child each night and reading a book together not only helps prepare children for sleep, but it’s also a great way to foster parent-child bonds and create cherished memories. The process of sharing bedtime stories with children has also been shown to boost childhood brain development, encouraging critical thinking, problem solving, and appreciation of the relationship between cause and effect.
What parents oftentimes forget, however, is that we don’t always need an actual book to relay a captivating story. With a little improvisation and creativity, parents can create their own made-up tales. Both my children love to be read to, but what they love even more is when my husband and I make up our own stories for them. The tricky part for us as parents is coming up with the inspiration and creativity to weave together a story right on the spot. Although the task may seem intimidating at first request, luckily all that a parent really needs is a simple plot with a positive moral. So if you haven’t yet given it a try, why not put down the book tonight and offer up your very own tale created just for your little ones? Below are a few simple tips to help inspire your inner storyteller and get you started.
Find an object for inspiration
Turn your child’s favorite stuffed animal or toy into the star of the story, or ask your child to look around the room and pick an object to use as the focal point of the tale. Another option is to use a piece of your child’s own artwork as a springboard for a story. Ask your child to explain what's happening in his or her painting or drawing, and then take off from there. Kids are sure to love it when you bring their toys or artwork to life.
Make your child, or yourself, the star
Children love hearing stories about themselves, and they also enjoy hearing stories about their parents when they were children. You can share a story from your own childhood of something interesting that once happened to you, or you can use your child as the main character and set them off on a wild adventure. My son is all about superheroes right now, so any story where he is given superpowers really seems to captivate him!
Use the day’s events to drive the plot
This is my both of my kids’ favorite type of story - one that uses what they did that day, but with a creative twist added to make the story silly or crazy. This strategy helps children revisit the day’s activities in a new light. My daughter especially likes it when I retell the days events and include a trip to another child’s birthday party within each of the day’s activities, regardless of whether we actually attended a party in real life or not. I’ve come to realize that she just wants each story to include a part where she is eating cupcakes!
Showcase an interest
A good baseline for a story’s plot can easily come from your child’s current obsession, such as superheroes, princesses, trucks, or whatever else her or she might be into at the moment. And don’t worry if you feel like you’re repeating yourself as all of your stories begin to sound the same. Kids are very passionate about their interests, so they won’t mind a bit if every night’s story seems to focus on the same characters!
Have the story teach a lesson
A great way to incorporate morals and reinforce important lessons that your child may have encountered during the day is through a bedtime story. For instance, if your child threw a toy at a sibling earlier that day, create a story about a little boy or girl who accidentally hurt a friend when he or she threw a toy, and who later learned how important it is to never throw things at people. Keep the story positive and upbeat at the end so as to prevent it from sounding too lecture-like.
Let your kids take over
Taking turns developing the plot line is a great way to encourage participation and take the pressure for the entire story arc off your own shoulders. Simply go back and forth with your child sentence for sentence, until the story line naturally comes to a conclusion, or until one of you says “the end!” Alternately, you can task your child with creating the story assignment. Ask him or her to provide a character, a location, and a problem, and then you take over from there.
Keep it moderate and simple
Little kids don’t have the longest attention spans, and they are also bound to be pretty sleepy as bedtime nears, so don’t let your story go on for too long or get too complex. The basic plot line of characters face a problem, problem grows bigger, and then problem gets resolved always works well. However, also try to resist the desire to speed through the story. A steady pace helps to build suspense and draw in your little listeners. Besides, a story that ends too quickly will inevitably lead to pleas for another one!