Telling a good story at bedtime has many benefits. It entertains and relaxes your child, it helps to build his or her imagination, it makes bedtime something to look forward to, it builds a lifelong enjoyment of reading and it’s an opportunity for quiet time with your child.
What makes a good bedtime story? Whether you’re reading from a book or making it up as you go along, it should have these common elements:
Familiarity: Even if you are weaving a tale about dragons and magical places, a child likes to have hints of familiar things. Maybe the dragon has an annoying little brother or the kingdom has a grocery store just like the one your child has been to. Being able to relate to one or two aspects of the story or setting helps your child build stronger, richer images in his or her mind.
Length: Since one of the goals of a bedtime story is to help your child sleep, you don’t want the story to be too long. Kids like to see results, so falling asleep before the end of a story can frustrate them. If you’re involved in a series of tales or a longer book with chapters, keep the segments short.
If you can’t get to the end of a chapter, try to leave the story at a point where something has happened to give your child a sense of some kind of completion. The amount of time you spend reading at bedtime will vary but a good rule of thumb is twenty minutes.
Variety: Every child has a favorite book or story and asks for it to be read or told time and again. No matter how bored you are with the story, your child needs this reassurance and repetition to help him or she learn. However, you can slowly put new stories into the repertoire by compromising. Tell your child that you’ll read their favorite every night except on Sunday and Wednesday (for example) when you’ll read something else.
Even give him or her the option of making the selection. Most children will agree to this because they still get their beloved story most of the time and they know when to expect something new. Eventually, they will begin requesting new stories every night until they find a new favorite.
Plot: Many children like scary stories, but bedtime isn’t when they should be told. Again, helping your child get to sleep is the primary goal, and scaring them isn’t going to help. There can be scary or dangerous elements to the plot but don’t end on a frightening note. Keep in mind how active a child’s imagination is and how imaginary things can be very real to them. A mixture of happy, sad, safe, dangerous, serious, and funny events or characters make the best bedtime stories.
Participation: As children grow older, they will participate more in the storytelling. Before they know how to read, give them plenty of pictures or use gestures and faces to illustrate your tale. Once they start learning to read use your finger to show what you’re reading and solicit their help from time to time. At all times, don’t dismiss their feedback. Younger children will ask questions and older kids will make comments or wonder about things in the story.
Their interaction is just as important as the story itself, so don’t give them the impression that they are doing something wrong by interrupting breaking the flow. Of course, ground rules will have to be set, or else you could become embroiled in a serious debate over the temperature of a dragon’s breath and that won’t help either of you sleep.Their interaction
Bedtime reading is an important event in a child’s day. Make the most of it.