Once upon a time, there was a plucky mom who got really tired of reading Where the Wild Things Are over and over (and over, and over) to her child. All her life this mom had heard tales about the days of yore, when parents entertained their children using a magical power called “the imagination”—and completely without the help of Uncle TV and Aunty iPad. The plucky mom liked this idea a lot, but not knowing just where to start, she resigned herself to another reading of the same old book.
Does this story sound familiar? If you can see yourself in the role of the plucky mom, it’s time to dust off a part of your brain that you probably haven’t used in a while: your inner storyteller.
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Start off by trying to recall the stories you loved as a child. They can be things that really happened or that were totally made up. Then think about the stories your child is drawn to. The perfect stories for you and your child will be a mix of both.
Do you have an uncle who did something amazing? Imagine his experience and put it into words. Or maybe you prefer the classics like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Try replacing the main characters with alligators or ninjas.
The secret here is that you don’t have to know where the story is going. Just launch into it: “Once upon a time, there was a dog named Bongo…” or “It was a dark and stormy night in Tupelo…” and see where it takes you.
“Any time a parent can use funny, quirky character voices, the more intently a child will listen,” says Julie Shaw, a former theater teacher. “It helps kids follow the story, listen better and enjoy the experience.” Try incorporating gestures and funny faces, too.
“When you get stuck on what comes next, let your child fill in the blanks,” recommends youth services librarian Meghann Henry. Having children add names and places keeps them engaged and helps them build stronger mental images. Besides, she says, “It takes the pressure off of you.”
Another way to make the story more fun is to add details your child can relate to. Maybe Goldilocks has an annoying little brother. Or maybe your main character thinks broccoli smells like stinky feet. Details from everyday life will make your child feel more involved in the story.
Telling stories gives both you and your child a creative outlet. It’s also a great way to create lasting memories together. But perhaps the best benefit of all is the possibility that, someday, a retelling of those memories will begin with the words, “Once upon a time, my mom told me a story…”