Kids love to hear made-up tales, so ham it up with over-the-top voices and silly faces - and inspire your child to do the same. One night when my son, Nathan, was 3½, he didn’t want me to read him a book before bed. Instead, he asked me to tell him a story about Mommy and Daddy. I thought of our honeymoon in Thailand, so I dug out a photo of my husband and me sitting atop an elephant. Nathan grabbed the picture and studied it as I told him about our adventure that day - riding through a small village and stopping for lunch. He loved the story and asked to hear it again and again. Each time I told it, I’d add another detail. After hearing the tale several times, Nathan started to make his own contributions.
When I said that the bathroom didn’t have a sink, he exclaimed, “I brought the wipes!” Of course, reading with your child is a wonderful bonding experience and essential for developing his language skills, but storytelling provides a unique kind of magic. “When you look into a child’s eyes and use hand gestures, voice inflections, and facial expressions, it deepens the connection,” says Martha Hamilton, coauthor of Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom.
Hearing you tell (and retell!) a familiar adventure can boost your child’s vocabulary, memory, and ability to understand the concepts of beginning, middle, and end, skills that provide a strong basis for literacy. Plus, making up stories for your kid is a great way to boost his imagination and - as his language skills develop - encourage him to create his own tales. Every parent can become an ace storyteller with practice. These ideas will you get started.
Have Your Kid Star
Naturally, he’ll love to hear stories about himself. Explain how you chose his name, or regale him with funny anecdotes about when he was a baby - and first met the cat or got food all over his face. You can also recount a fairy tale in which your child climbs the bean stalk or tastes everyone’s porridge.
Share Family Stories
Talk about your own childhood - your favorite toy, mistakes you made (woke up late and missed the bus), and memories of big events like birthdays or your first day of school. Also, flip through recent photo albums to spur some reminiscing. Help build your child’s memory skills by describing her trip to the zoo or visit to the beach. After she’s heard the details a few times, ask open ended questions (“What happened next?” “What was your favorite part?”) to encourage her own version. Just Be Silly
One night I was tired of the elephant ride adventure, so I made up something kooky about Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. I told Nathan that Bert and Ernie went to visit their good pal, Bernie. Nathan completely cracked up. He likes rhymes and wordplay and knows a boy named Bernie. We were having fun so I continued the silly story: “Bernie’s mom asked Ernie if he’d like a piece of cake. Ernie said he didn’t want to eat a snake. Bert said that would be a mistake.” Nathan was in hysterics, but it didn’t seem like much of a tale to me. However, Betty S. Bardige, Ed.D., a developmental psychologist and author of Talk to Me, Baby! How You Can Support Young Children’s Language Development, says plot isn’t paramount: “Making words fun for kids is part of what constitutes a good story. And if everyone’s laughing, that’s even better.”
Books with few or no words - such as The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman, or Tuesday, by David Wiesner - provide a premise for all sorts of tales you can make up to go with the illustrations. After a few tellings, challenge your child to help create a story. “As you turn the pages, ask her to name the characters and describe what they’re thinking and feeling,” says Tanya Turek, a mom of three who blogs about kid books. Each time you “read” the story, try to inspire your child to stretch her imagination further.