Story Starters contain ideas to help you design bedtime stories. Add details, characters, incidents, and continue the story to a conclusion. Story Starters will give you a launching pad for spinning tales and guidance to help you on your way.
There are two parts to each Story Starter. The first sets up the scene, the characters and sometimes the conflict. When a word is green the first time it appears, it can be changed to any type of animal, person, or physical object. The second part is in brackets and provides suggestions for getting to a conclusion and, occasionally, advice on how to tell the story.
“What’s it Like to Be a Dolphin?” — A boy wishes on a star that he could be a dolphin for a day. Overnight, his wish is granted, and he wakes up in the glittering Pacific Ocean surrounded by fellow dolphins swimming in the water. He makes friends with one of the young dolphins. The pod comes across a man in the water. [The man could need help, or be looking for help for someone else; the man could be drowning or swimming; he could be in scuba gear or not; the water could be warm or very cold; the man could be friendly or be hostile; he could be doing something good, like trying to study the fish to find a way to save them or he could be doing something bad like killing fish. Or it doesn’t have to be a person that the dolphin/boy finds, it could be another dolphin, a fish or a whale. There are endless possibilities. Design a character that’s found in the water and a conflict and take it from here.]
“Finding Magic in the Forest” — During a walk in the woods, a girl finds magical springs that fit onto her shoes and let her jump as high as tall buildings. She decides to go on an adventure around the world and on her journey, she meets many different kinds of people and animals. Some of them are in need. Her unique springs allow her to help them. [The conflict in this story is how the girl helps the person or animal in need. For example, she can find people who have fallen down a pit or an ice cravass. Another variation: she drinks from a spring and it gives her supernatural powers.]
“The Magic Laugh” — A girl plays in the forest and meets an old man. The man has a hearty laugh which is so full of mirth that it makes you laugh when you hear it. In addition, when he laughs, the language of any animal in the forest can be understood and the animals can understand what the people say. The old man and the girl go to several different animals who tell about their lives. The man teaches the child how to make the sound and the child masters the skill. Then, they talk to a deer, who tells them a story that makes them very sad. [The sad story should include circumstances that would allow the child to help an animal, for example, the deer’s fawn is lost; the child goes on an adventure asking other animals if they have seen the fawn. Other possibilities are that the deer has become separated from the herd, or wants to be taught how to laugh so that she, too, can talk to other animals, or tells about an impending danger to the village.]
“A Frog Story” — A frog (named Willy, brown with yellow toes and three green warts) is trapped in Johnny’s backpack (blue, with Power Rangers on the front) and wants to get back to the pond (deep and murky water where three catfish live) instead of going to school (looks like your child’s school) where he will be shown on sharing day (just after Billy shows his turnip and Anne shows her archery set with feathers and war paint). Frog knows a lizard (with a blue belly, tail missing from an incident playing golf with a cricket) who lives in an old converted fish tank in the classroom (along with five silly bugs and a green mouse) and fully expects that the lizard (named Betty) will help him escape. [Maybe Betty will escape as well and come live in the murky waters with Willy.]
“The Magic Dragon” — Once upon a time in a place not so far away, lived a girl who had a magic dragon for a friend. The dragon could change color and shape and fly long distances or sail like a ship on the ocean. The girl would climb on the back of the dragon and away they would go. One of their favorite destinations was Zanzibar, a haven for pirates. On one of their trips, the dragon and the girl found a pirate island where the pirates are holding many people hostage. [In your story, you can describe what it felt like to fly on the back of the dragon or to sit on the deck when the dragon changed its shape to a ship and sailed the high seas. Describe all the different shapes the dragon could change himself into. Talk about the island and how the pirates had sought to protect it; what fortifications they had built and so on.]
“Pirates Approaching!” — It’s about 1830 and a boy boards a large sailing ship bound from Europe for America. He is traveling with his mother and little sister. Their father is already in America, and they’ll be reunited soon. After a few days at sea, they sight the fast approaching sail of a ship flying the black skull and crossbones flag of the pirate. [However you set up the battle or the way in which the child saves his family from the pirates, it should be a cliffhanger and not decided until the very last moment, in which the child does something ingenious to save the day.]
“Protecting the Village” — A herd of giant buffalo is destroying the village where the child hero lives. He discovers a way to turn the herd so that they drown themselves in the sea and . . . [You can include different characters who help the hero discover the way to turn the herd. The hero should succeed just at the last minute before the herd destroys the village.]
“The Dragon Who Liked to Eat at Restaurants” — A fire-breathing dragon has lived near the town for many years. He is a peaceful dragon and has been very helpful in years past in guarding the town against enemies. All he wants in return is respect and to eat at a different restaurant every night. This is a problem for the restaurant owners because when the dragon doesn’t like the food or the service isn’t good, the dragon gets upset and burns up part of the restaurant with his fiery dragon breath. A river runs by the town. The dragon really wants to eat at this particular restaurant which is by the river. The owner doesn’t want him there because she doesn’t want her restaurant to be burned up. [Our child/hero plays an important role in helping the town and the dragon peacefully work out their problems. Describe what our young hero/heroine does, who helps, and some of the adventures that occur along the way. Your conclusion should find a way to let a subdued dragon eat at the restaurant without destroying it and everyone, including the dragon, lives happily ever after.]
“Quest for the Magic Cocoa Bean” — In a jungle, a young, clever monkey follows a trail of banana peels and discovers an ancient city. In the city, he finds a group of monkeys who live in the jungle but come to the city once a year to compete against each other in sports events. The young monkey asks to join and he is told that he must first go out and find the magic cocoa bean that grows on top of the largest cocoa bean tree in the rainforest. [The young monkey embarks on his quest, meets a helper on the way, suffers hardships, and must meet many challenges to get the magic cocoa pod.]
“The King Who Hated Pets” — In the future, far away in space, an astronaut and his pet dog explore planets that nobody knows about, discovering different types of worlds, other kinds of life, and strange ways of living. One planet is in the grip of an evil king who wants to kill all the dogs on the planet. [The pet dog should reveal powers and understanding that the owner hadn’t known of before and which are important in coming to a resolution.]
STORIES FROM BOOKS, MOVIES, FOLKLORE AND FAIRY TALES:
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — A child, mired in a humdrum world is transported by a freak event (whether or an accident) away from her family to a different and exciting world. She must pass a test or perform some deed to be entitled to return home. She has many adventures along the way. [Based on The Wizard of Oz.]
“Toys Come To Life” — Many adventures can include the child’s toys coming to life. One is where they come to life to alert the family to a fire in the house or to save the family from a threatening person or animal. [In The Nutcracker, toys fight off the mice who live in the house and would destroy Christmas presents. In Copelia, an evil sorcerer tries to trap the heroine into becoming one of this dolls. In Toy Story, the old favorite toy and the new favorite toy have to work things out.]
“Stories from Book or Screen” — Bring characters from your child’s favorite book, movie, or television show (Winnie the Pooh, Nemo, Buzz Lightyear, Dora the Explorer, The Backyardigans, Curious George, Arthur, etc.) into a brand new story at bedtime. The characters don’t have to remain in the world they live in on television, either. Read a story, changing the names of the characters to the names of people you know (family, friends, neighbors). Improvise lines in the story which allow for more of those people’s traits to shine through. This makes for an entertaining take on a well-loved book.
“Favorite Fairy Tales” — Check out from the library a book of Grimm Fairy Tales (or read 209 of them online here) or tales by Hans Christian Anderson. You’ll find many of your child’s favorite stories in there, some with a new twist, and should provide kindling for your own creations. The original “Cinderella”, which was told by the Brothers Grimm is quite different from the Disney version. Many people like it better.
“Swapping Places” — Take a famous tale (like “The Wizard of Oz”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Hansel and Gretel”, or any other tale) and tell a story about how one day, your child and the children in the story swap places. For instance, your child lives the life of Dorothy, while Dorothy lives your child’s life: going to soccer practice, doing homework, and feeding the dog. They have one week to learn all they can about the other person’s life.
“Character Party” — Take the main characters from your child’s favorite books, movies and television shows and tell a story about the day that all of them show up to your house. The doorbell doesn’t stop ringing, and soon the house is packed full with different characters, from different story worlds. You can involve your child with this story, saying something like, “Ding Dong! The doorbell rang. I opened the door, and standing there was . . .” and your child names whomever she or he wants to show up. Once all of the characters have settled into the living room, the truth comes out. They want the child to come live with them for a week. But the child can only choose one character! The characters jump through endless hoops and pull out all the stops, trying to be the special chosen one.
“Photo Stories” — Look through your family photo albums and make up a bedtime story based on what the people are doing in the pictures. The stories can be about what happened in the photographs, or any of your other famous family stories. You can also tell a story solely about one person in the picture and his or her life leading up to that moment. Alternatively, you can make up a brand new story about the photograph, with new characters and invented situations.
“Animal Tales” — Use the concept of a story where the hero is a small animal who has moved in with a big human family (that is not your own). The character can face the challenges of being a small animal in a big world, or he can have ulterior motives, like being sent into the family to spy on them, but winds up falling in love with them, and must decide what to do.
Give your child a situation to think about before bed, a situation that requires something for your child to do. Give your child criteria that must be met, and an ultimate goal. The amount of information to include will depend on your child. The goal of a Think About is to give your child something to concentrate on, lulling them to sleep. You can tell your child that you two will talk about what they come up with over breakfast (as opposed to sitting in their room as they create it, keeping them awake). Some kids might remember every detail, some might only remember a few things, and others might not remember even doing the Think About since they fell asleep so quickly! Some examples:
a. Space Think About — You must design in your mind a spaceship that is shaped like a donut, is powered by grass clippings and can fly to Jupiter and back. You can also add a mission to this: you must destroy the asteroid that is flying toward one of Jupiter’s moons, using basketballs.
b. Design Think About — The summer ball is coming up. You must design in your mind three dresses for yourself to wear. One must be long, one must have sleeves and the other must be very poofy. They can be any color of the rainbow, and though they all should look different, they must all have pockets, sparkles that can come and go, and ribbons and buttons.
c. Tree House Think About – You must design in your mind a tree house for a family, reflecting the things they love. For example, they could love polka dots, dogs, the color orange and pickles. The tree house needs a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. They may want a tree house with 3 slides, a ladder, and a rope swing.
Many of the stories described above include social-emotional learning. However, the stories below more explicitly relate to social-emotional learning.
“Losing a Prized Possession” — Not so long ago, in a town not so far away, a little girl named Anna lived with her mother and father. Like most children, Anna loved to play outdoors. She especially liked the swings and the jungle gym at the park. At bedtime, Anna loved for her mom or dad to read her a story. Her favorite book was Winnie the Pooh. Anna had her parents read the stories about Pooh and his friends many times over. Anna loved the book so much that she carried it with her wherever she went. Once when she went to the park, she lost her book. [Describe how the child panics, the mother is calm and soothing and tells her that she has the best chance to find the book if she retraces her steps from the last time she recalls having it. Child and mother go on the quest for the book and the child, after many dead-ends, finds her book, safe and sound.]
“Pick-up Is Late” — Mother is late picking child up from school. The child is very upset and can’t stop imagining many terrible scenarios. A friendly teacher helps out. Mother comes, she was held up in traffic.
“A Child is Lost” — [The gender in this story should be different than the gender of your child.] Not so long ago, there was a little boy named Frank who went with his Mom and Dad to an amusement park. Frank was about __ years old and had two brothers and sisters. [Frank should be a little older than your child and should have more brother and sisters.] He had wanted to go to the amusement park for a long time and he was really excited to be going. The amusement park was very crowded and there were people all around. [Describe some of the rides and things that Frank and his family did.] Usually, Frank held his mother’s or father’s, but one time he wanted to see some stuffed animals at one of the booths. He let go of his mother’s hand and, as he ran toward the booth, he called to his mother to tell her where he was going. Frank thought he was being very careful not to get lost. Then he ran to the stand and had a good time looking at the stuffed animals. His mother hadn’t heard him and turned around to find that Frank was gone. When Frank was finished looking at the stuffed animals, he looked for his mom and dad but he couldn’t find them. He was lost!!!
Frank, felt a really bad panicky feeling start in his stomach and come up to his throat. “Mom! Dad!”, he called over and over, but they didn’t answer. Frank started to run this way and that, looking for his parents, but he couldn’t find them. The sick feeling was really bad now, and he started to cry. The amusement park was full of people, but they were all strangers. Then Frank saw a mother and father with two children just about his age. They looked like he could trust them. He started to walk toward them. He remembered that his mother told him that if he got lost he should go to a police officer or a mom or dad with children. He tried not to cry but he couldn’t stop himself. [Continue about how the parents talked to him and got Frank back to his parents.]
For Talking and Playing Guides to popular movies for children 3 – 8, go to the Talking and Playing with Movies Home Page. For Learning Guides which help teachers and parents use feature movies to supplement the curriculum for K-12, foster social-emotional learning and teach ethics, go to TeachWithMovies.org.