Kids love a bedtime story. Parents understand the importance of language development and the depth of bonding that can happen over time. However, we often find ourselves reading them their favorite story until they’ve memorized every page and we want to jab a pencil into our eye-sockets for some kind of relief.
While some might not be driven to the point of an at-home lobotomy, we do find ourselves phoning it in, and the kids can tell. When you’re reading sounds less like the exciting tale they remember from last night and more like Eeyore on Valium, nobody wins.
What should be a great time of bonding becomes a time of frustration for both parent and child. But story time doesn’t have to, and really shouldn’t, be a painful thing. It just needs some spicing up.
One of my favorite ways to spice up story time is to put the book down, assume the story teller’s position (feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, eyes wide, ready for action), and start talking. That’s right; I’m talking about telling a story instead of just reading one.
I know this idea just turned many of your faces pale and pulled your stomach into your chest. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. Story telling isn’t hard, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, the embarrassment fades too. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Don’t Be Afraid
There’s nothing to fear. Kids are not only very forgiving; they’re probably not expecting much. They know you’re a computer programmer or doctor or whatnot. They’re not expecting you to be J.R.R. Tolkien. They’re expecting you to be their dad, telling a story only you can tell, in a way only you can tell it. Its about being together, not creating a masterpiece.
2. Remember the Goal
The goal here isn’t to tell a great story, but to tell an engaging one. It doesn’t matter if Larry’s a plumber at the start of the book and is a chef by the end. What matters is that your kids are interested enough to pay attention to you. Just be with those kids, interacting with them, and enjoy the time while it’s still there to enjoy.
3. Nail the Details
Stories are interesting if they form a clear picture in our mind. Don’t describe the setting as a small house, but as a small house with *insert details here*. A small house with flower print curtains? A small house with a jell-o floor? A small house with 17 children devoted to synchronized swimming? If you throw in one or two vivid details, all stories come alive. And not just in the mind of the hearer, but in the mind of the storyteller as well, which makes your job a lot easier.
4. It’s Okay to Suck
Your story will be terrible, and that’s just fine. Your story doesn’t even have to have a beginning, middle, and end. Some stories go on for days, others end abruptly, and others have no point at all. Let it be whatever it wants to be, as long as you’ve captured their attention in the process.
5. Morals Shmorals
Some parents try to use story time as a time to teach morals. That’s a great idea, if you can do it well. Most of us can’t. If you’re like me and can’t skillfully work a moral into the story, don’t worry about it. You’d be hard pressed trying to find a moral to Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, or most of the classic stories we tell our kids. But that doesn’t stop us from telling them.
6. Presentation Matters
Kids are energized by seeing their parents excited about something. They’ll be hanging on your every word if you put some passion into your storytelling. Make it seem like an interesting story and it will become an interesting story, in their eyes, at least.
I’m sure I’m not the only dad who puts some effort into story time. What have you tried that I’ve failed to mention?