HOW TO TELL BEDTIME STORIES . . . Any Time
Skills for Reading,
Verbal Development, and
Bedtime stories stimulate the ability to form mental images from words, an essential skill for reading. They also enhance a child's verbal skills and promote social-emotional learning. When you tell bedtime stories, you'll have a new dimension of shared experience with your child and convey your view of the world.
Telling stories isn't a hard skill to learn. In this short article, we'll show you the way to happy and satisfying conclusions. Your biggest supporter will be your audience, your child, who is flattered you took time to tell the story and who'll forgive many mistakes. Besides, if your story isn't all that exciting, your might just put your child to sleep.
If you need help with story ideas, subscribe to TeachWithMovies.com and use our "Story Starters". These are single paragraphs that set up scenes, characters, and conflicts for bedtime stories. (A subscription is only $11.99 per year and also gives you access to Guides for Talking and Playing for Growth. The Guides help parents make popular children's movies an occasion for growth and development. Click here for a sample Guide to Finding Nemo.)Elements of a Story: All stories have a setting, characters, a conflict, and a resolution. The world of your story can be realistic or the most outlandish fantasy. Wherever and whenever your story occurs, the conflict is key. Who would listen to "Little Red Riding Hood" without a hungry wolf in sheep's clothing?
When: The time can be the past, the present, or the future. Phrases such as "once upon a time", "long, long ago", and "not so long ago" are great for setting time.
Keep it Fun: Time spent telling stories should be fun and loving moments. Don't try to be didactic and teach, except on the rarest occasion. Good lessons will come on their own through the stories you choose to create. Don't concern yourself with building verbal skills, enhancing social-emotional learning, or teaching ethics. All of these will come to your child as a happy by-product of listening to stories.
Build In Distance: Tell stories about someone's sister, rather than your child's sister, and someone's grandfather, rather than your child's grandfather. Children love stories in which animals, plants, or inanimate objects take on human characteristics, and have no trouble identifying with those that have a few attributes similar to their own. However, this identification is tempered by the fundamental differences between your child and the character, enabling you to deal directly with a situation in which the emotions are too strong for a child to bear. Bambi, for example, can suffer his mother's death in a way that would be too painful were the characters human.
Use your Imagination and Build One Story on Another: Give free reign to your creative impulses and you'll find that stories can be inspired by virtually any object, event, animal or person. Feel free to build your story on top of another story you've told in days past, a book, a television program or a movie. Base several stories on one set of characters placed in different situations. (When your story is derived from a television program, a film, or an illustrated book, add new characters and describe situations that are not shown on the screen. In this way, your child's imagination will expand beyond what he or she has already seen.)
Provide Interesting Detail and Strong Characterization: As you develop the story, build pictures with your words using details that make a vivid impression. This applies to scenery, action, and characters. Also, be sure to give insights to the motivations of the characters, but do not describe them outright. Let your child make the logical jump.
When You Really Get Going, Use Archetypical Symbols: As your plot weaves, you may consider incorporating archetypes: another element of reading comprehension that your children will find in school. Certain objects or situations are imbued with extra meaning, even for young children, and serve to enrich your stories in terms of both idea and art. They include:
Be prepared for the following:
Your listener may not like the story and ask you to tell another one. Don't be offended. Listen to what your child has to say and start over.
Further reading: The book that inspired this article and from which many of the concepts were taken (including the Tolkien quote) is Tell Me A Story: Shaping Your Child's Future Through Bedtime Stories, by Chase Collins. We highly recommend this book.
Conclusion: Telling imaginative bedtime (or any time) stories to your child is a skill you can easily master. Stories will enhance your child's verbal development and social-emotional learning. They will foster your child's ability to form mental images from words, an essential skill for learning to read. Stories will bring you and your child closer together and provide an opportunity to communicate your ethical values in a way that is fun and entertaining.
James Frieden, TeachWithMovies.com, with valuable assistance from Mary Red Clay. April 15, 2008
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