How to Tell a Bedtime Story

In 10 Simple Steps.

How to Tell a Bedtime Story 2Once upon a time…I used to be terrible at telling my kids stories. So I didn’t. A few weeks ago, my oldest son finally asked me to tell him a story. I have been avoiding this at all costs, instead making a point to read lots of books or have Daddy step in with one of his stories. Well, Daddy wasn’t there and I felt terrible. I tried, but I basically just retold the Bible stories we go over with him. He enjoyed it…but…

I must not have done a very great job because the following night, my son said he was going to tell me a bedtime story. Of course, I let him. Did you know that you can learn a whole lot by having your child tell you a story? We laughed, we gaped in suspense, we cried a little (inside.) He is a wonderful story teller! He left me feeling quite convicted that I should be telling him the stories (while still encouraging him to tell me his action-packed tales.)

Now, I realize this probably seems totally crazy since I am a blogger/writer, I write children’s stories, etc.; however, I really, really have struggled with impromptu storytelling. While I know that not being able to tell a great story says nothing about me as a parent, I felt somehow like I’d failed him. I’m a writer. I’m creative. Yet I can’t tell my own child a story.

Night after night I’d listen to his stories and take mental notes. Several days later, he asked if I could tell the story this time. Guess what, I gave it a try. Guess what else. He loved the story and I loved telling it! Sure, it was the most random story I could have told, but it accomplished its goal–making him smile.

Do you struggle to tell stories to your kids in the spur of the moment? I’ll admit, I still do at times, but I have come up with a list of steps that I bring to mind when he asks me to tell a story. I want to share them with you because they really help me and I hope they are beneficial to you as well.

Step 1: Scan the Scenery

Take a quick second to look around the room before you jump right into the story. Keep your child in suspense with a “hmmm…” type sound while you wait for inspiration to hit. The first object that grabs your attention will be your main character. Continue looking around for inspiration throughout your narrative.

Step 2: Start Talking

Just start talking. I find a great way to gather my thoughts is to start with something like “One day” or “Once upon a time” or “There was a…” or “Long ago.” As you move into your story, don’t over-think it. When I tell mine, I pretty much just say whatever pops into my head (stay age-appropriate, though–I don’t use anything too grown up or reallllly big words or anything like that in my stories.)

Step 3: Pause

As you begin telling your story, you will naturally feel the need to pause to figure out what comes next. Take advantage of this time! I pause…fairly frequently. It makes things fun. And more suspenseful. Even if you feel like you’re pausing too frequently, it’s okay! Every time I’m not sure what to say next I just pause. My son’s excitement builds, then I start back into our little adventure.

Step 4: Set Goals

Now you’re into the story. You’re stuck. You need to find a way out. Decide which path your story will take and sort of think of how you want it resolved. I used the time during my pauses to figure this out, taking it little bits at a time. Who/what is this story about? What is happening? Where is this story going? Where does it take place (perhaps you’d like to use a silly accent)? When do you want to end your story/how long will it take? These are great questions to ask yourself before you begin as well as throughout your talking and pausing.

Step 5: Don’t Make Sense

Does your story really need to fit into reality? No. I find it helpful to allow myself the freedom of not making sense. Of course, you do want your story to make sense in some ways–full sentences, an opener, a climax, a satisfying ending, etc.–but be random. Your kid will probably fill in the blanks and it will make your masterpiece more stimulating for your child.

Step 6: Be Silly

Compel your child by being a complete goof through your voice, actions, and story line. Use your pauses to drop your jaw and open your eyes wide. Cross your eyes. Talk in a different dialect. Say things that will leave your child just a little confused with a big giggle and a gigantic smile.

Step 7: Stimulate the Senses

Use descriptive wording in your piece. Talking about gum? It’s probably chewy or sticky. Talking about music? Tap your fingers to the beat or hum a little song. Was the item big as housetall as a mountainstinky as a skunk?

Step 8: Engage

Involve your child in the story. Ask questions like, “What do you think happened next?” or “Guess what.” This will give you more time to come up with a response, allow your child to give a response, keep your child actively interested in your story, and your child may even help you come up with where the narrative will head next.

Step 9: Give It a Moral

While you may not get a moral out of every story you tell, I like to come up with something I can use from the story to make it educational in some way. Sometimes we will just talk about colors or textures or sounds from the story. Sometimes we will talk about being kind to others or making poor choices. This helps your story go on a little longer while summing it up and making it stick a little better.

Step 10: Point to The Subject

Really, actually point to the subject of your story. This is partly why I recommend choosing your subject from the room. I feel it really sparks your child’s imagination and each time they see that object they will think of the creative story Mom or Dad (or Grandpa or Grandma or anyone else storytelling) told the other night. They will remember that moral of the story when they see the object. This may not last long, but sometimes I can point it out to my son a few days later and he still remembers. This is what I end my story with.

Ultimately, have a blast! Please, don’t just tell a story because your child asks for it or because you feel you have to. If you want your tall tale to be fun for your child, it has to be fun for you. Don’t make it a chore. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not know quite where you’re going next. It’s okay to not make total sense. That’s what makes it fun, what makes your piece unique. Your child mostly just wants the time and memories of story time with the person he cares about.

Example Story:

There was an alligator that lived in a big swamp. The water was slimy and sticky, but he loved it…why would he not? Alligators love swamps…
Well, Mr. Alligator was just swimming around in his swamp when all of a sudden…
Some DUCKS hopped right on in! One of the ducks pulled out an orange lollipop. Slowly, he unwrapped it. He started to lick it. Lick, lick.
He dropped the sucker into the swamp…
Guess what happened…
The swamp…turned…ORANGE!! Orange. Do you know what’s even sillier? All of those ducks turned orange. And the alligator…but, since he was already green, he turned a brownish color. You know, because green and orange make brown.
Do you think the alligator and ducks need a bath? I think so. They all hopped right on into a sink filled with water and started to scrub up…
They looked up at the faucet. Hmm…why is the faucet so big? Shouldn’t they be bigger than the faucet? Once they realized they shouldn’t be able to fit in the sink, they started to grow and grow. They grew so big…
That they clunked their heads on the faucet. The alligator crawled out of the sink and the ducks waddled. They needed to dry off, so they grabbed towels and rubbed all the water off. The towels were so fluffy…
That they all got supper frizzy hair…or rather, feathers. They looked like big cotton balls. Except the alligator. His skin was scaly so he looked normal…except for a soap bubble mustache he forgot to wipe off. (Points to the stuffed alligator on the bed.)

Once upon a time, I struggled to tell bedtime stories. I learned some great tips, thanks to my son, and now I enjoy our nighttime narratives; with these tips you can totally start telling tales too. The end.

Take a look around the room. What will you talk about first?

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  1. This post really made me smile.

  2. Love this! I’m not good at improv at all when it comes to storytelling. Thanks for the tips. 🙂

  3. I love storytelling very much …. 🙂

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