There aren’t too many things in this world that are more intimidating than your toddler or little one asking for a bedtime story, but turning down every book on the shelf that you’ve read them a hundred times over. Especially if they specifically blurt out “tell me a story!”. Our responses often involve something akin to the old cliche of a deer in headlights. Not the ones that stand there, but the ones that jerk and twitch with the urge to -run-. Suddenly you realize that you haven’t sat down for an imagination pow-wow since you were a kid. Creative Writing didn’t count in highschool because that was work. Imagination in the bed room is a whole different article in itself.
Don’t let it frighten you. The first time I had to sit down and tell my 2 year old a story, I had to scratch my chin and think good and hard while she stared at, her bear crushed under her arm, little blue eyes waiting patiently. I can’t remember a lick of the story I told her, but I know it wasn’t book quality. She loved it all the same.
Some of the most popular writers of children’s books had to start somewhere, and a fair number of them started in the same position you find yourself in. While your initial stories may come out sounding a little wonky and a bit like Dr. Seuss, fear not. Children crave the strange and odd stories. That’s why stories like Thomas the Tank Engine, and Sesame street are so popular. Children are amazed and easily engrossed by things that are wonderous and especially silly.
I’m much better at stories on the spot though, practice makes perfect. Here are a few tips to help you be a better story-teller for your little ones
1) Don’t ever say no to your child. Telling your child “no” for such a simple request plants a deep seed that they may remember for a long time. You may enjoy the thought of one night off from story-time by saying no that evening and may very well intend to give a story your all tomorrow, but with some kids a single “no” might be all it takes for them to completely lose interest and they may never ask you again. Say yes. Watching you sit and think about a story is the best example of flexing creativity and imagination for your kids. You’re showing them how to think in the moment. You’re leading by example, and the best part is you’re doing the same thing your television is doing but you’re involved. You’re bonding. You also have the ability to tailor and censor your story as you see fit to deliver whatever message you like.
and no commercials for toys they’ll ask you for later!
2) Be animated! Use your hands and arms, make symbols and motions to represent what you’re saying. Visual cues with your hands and movements help them imagine the pictures you’re trying to show them. Making butterflies with your hands, or swimming strokes with your arms. Facial expressions are huge as well. If a character should be surprised, show it. Quick action and movements really catch the eye of small children, one of the main reason the popular kids shows are so… popular! Like Wow Wow Wubbzy and LazyTown.
3) Be creative with your characters you make. They don’t always have to be people. While people are the easiest, children seem to relate better to animals in stories. Examples of course are many. TV shows like Garfield, Franklin, Max and Ruby, Warner Brothers cartoons involving characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and more. Of course there’s always the far-reaching characters like Sesame Streets Elmo, Oscar the Grouch or other monster characters such as Monsters Inc’s Sully and Mike. A great example of a timeless kids story involving some fantastic creatures is “Where the Wild Things Are”. Kids love fantasy, create characters that will utilize that love.
3) Voices can be fun for kids. Not only does it help them put a voice to the character but that may help them create a face and persona in their minds. Storytelling is a building block for the foundation of imaginative play, and bolsters skills they will use later when interacting with other children at play and at school. not to mention all the giggle-fits from listening to your silly voices
4) Use familiar places and mix them with fictional places. “under the stairs to our basement, there was a -doorway-! and when the little boy opened it, he found it lead to a lush meadow filled with beautiful flowers and great big purple trees, bigger than anything you’d see around our house…and lot more purple!”
5) Use familiar characters. Who says you always have to make up your own? There have been many a nights where Blue from Blues Clues went on an adventure to find magical fairies and such. I promise Nick Jr won’t file a copyright suit if you use them.
6) Shake the discomfort of not having a moral to your story. A lot of parents try to do this when they make stories up so their kids learn something. In my opinion, my kid has been learning all day so our bedtime stories are fun energetic and meant to expel the last of the chuckles and energy.
7) If you want to add learning to the fun, have your child(ren) contribute by telling you what comes next, or adding little details. This flexes their little brains to be creative and use their imagination and cuts you a little bit of slack from carrying the weight of the story.
If you just can’t function on the spot, and you’re not good creatively in a crunch then anticipate that your child will eventually ask for a story like this. Take time now to brainstorm some ideas for characters and stories or read a few on the web that your child doesn’t have in book form. Read them over, remember them for later use, and find yourself prepared.
Last but not least, make them memorable. Kids can tell whether or not you’re being sincere. If you put your all into it, your child will love it and remember it. Who knows, they may request it so often that something you made up could turn into a story they recycle for their own children.