As someone who writes for a living, you’d think I’d be good at making up stories. But a thing I learned about myself long ago is that while I’m capable of writing about facts and my own opinions (which I also consider to be facts), I cannot create a work of fiction. I once tried to write a children’s book called The Binky Bandit, inspired by my then-infant son who was getting a reputation at daycare for stealing the other babies’ pacifiers. It was as bad as it sounds.
Which is why I am in awe of people who can go off-script at bedtime and edit a story on the fly to make it their own, or—gasp—tell a totally original story at a child’s mere prompting. I can’t do this. I’d be like, “Well, let’s see…there was a little boy and he was…in the woods, and…” And then what? I have no idea, and it won’t be interesting.
Paul L. Underwood writes (brags!) for the New York Times that he’s managed to do what I never could: He’s gotten really good at making up bedtime stories for his daughter. He even talked to some storytelling experts about why his methods are so good:
Diane Ferlatte has participated in storytelling festivals on five continents and in much of the United States, and her 2006 album of Brer Rabbit stories earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album for Children. She is, in short, a storyteller’s storyteller. Her advice? Use pitch, pacing and pausing to keep your child on the edge of their seat (or pillow).
“Pauses are very important,” she said. “It lets that curiosity and suspense in.” You can use strategic pauses to let your child ponder what happens next, and then take the story in an unexpected direction. Or just to make sure they’re paying attention.
Underwood also points out that storytelling should complement reading to your kids, not replace it. Ideally, you do a mix of both, because storytelling without having the illustrations right in front of them allows kids to imagine the story playing out in their own minds, boosting their own creativity.
I guess my son never really got that opportunity (sorry, kid), but the article got me wondering if this is something that parents do regularly—and if so, how? If you are a bedtime—or anytime—storyteller, tell me in the comments: What themes do you use? Do your kids interject when you veer too far off course, or the story gets too boring? Do they tell you bedtime stories?
Or better yet: Tell us your best bedtime story in the comments so other terrible storytellers like me can reap the rewards of your creativity. And feel free to tell your kids all about the little binky bandit who went on a crime spree in their daycare’s infant room.