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Why I Make Up Bedtime Stories For My Kids Instead of Reading To Them

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One of my daughter’s favourite bedtime stories was about a family of Belly Buttons. There was Mama Belly Button, Father Belly Button, Sister Belly Button and Brother Belly Button, all whom had to roll or bounce to get around because they didn’t have legs, feet or hands.

You won’t find this story on the bookshelves in schools or libraries or in any book stores. Because I made it up.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a writer, creative, and I have a very active imagination, but when my daughter was little, I would often make up bedtime stories for her. And now I do it for my son, too. Of course, I think reading to your children is probably one of the most important things you can do for their learning and growth. It helps them to develop a love for words, to recognize letters, and enjoy a topic they like.

But, along with also reading books, I absolutely love to make up bedtime stories. When my daughter asked how I had met the Belly Button Family, I told her how Mama Belly Button rang our doorbell while my daughter was at school. But, because I couldn’t see her (belly buttons are so small and cute!) I slammed the door shut. As the story progressed, I would also tell my daughter about how the doorbell rang a second time, and that I heard a small, squeaky voice calling out, ‘Hello! Down here! I’m a belly Button! My family just moved across the street!”

For almost a year, every night, my daughter wanted to hear more about the Belly Button Family adventures and how they had to bounce up and down the street, trying not to get stepped on by humans. Unlike reading a book to her, my daughter had endless questions about the Belly Button Family, which I would answer as seriously as possible, because the story was real to my daughter. “Yes, you need to be careful when you walk down our street now,” I answered. And, “Yes, they moved into the backyard shed of our neighbours across the street.” And, “Sure, one day you can take Sister Belly Button to school, as long as you keep her in your backpack.”

Making up stories, as opposed to reading children’s books, has many positives. I make up bedtime stories for my son too, that are even crazier than the ones I made up for my daughter. Yes, I was once I mermaid. Yes, a wizard had turned me into a human, so I could have babies. Yes, when you’re at school, Sam the Squirrel who is always racing up and down the front tree of our house, gets into a lot of trouble with his friend, Ruby the Robin, the bird that likes to hang in our backyard. Yes, the both snuck into the fridge and made a huge mess trying to eat all the snacks! Then they opened your bedroom window and played with your toys!

Children should have imaginations. And I think parents who use their imagination to make up bedtime stories, instead of reading books, is a positive thing.

“Without the use of books, telling stories takes on a different dimension. It offers a new way of looking at stories and is reminiscent of the old radio days when families gathered around and listened together,” this article points out. (Ok, even I’m not THAT old. Never once growing up did my family gather around a radio. We had televisions…with colour!) But the article raises interesting points.

It is, indeed, a very different experience reading a book to your child than making stories up. Personally, I find my children love my made-up stories, because they really don’t know if I’m telling the truth or not, unlike in a book, where they know the story is just a story, that ends with the last page.

When you make up stories, I find that my children ask me so many more questions, which leads to a more interactive, bonding experience. They want to know more details and they listen in awe, because to them, these stories probably seem a lot more personal.

Story-telling, as opposed to reading a book, is not new. It’s an incredibly ancient form of communication. According to this article, there are some wonderful, easy ways on how to start making up stories for bedtime, as opposed to reading their favourte book for the 80th time. And it has many positive benefits, including aiding in language skills, memory, and creative thinking. When it comes to language skills, the article states, “Storytelling also presents certain literary devices in a demonstrative and memorable way. Children will see and hear the building of plot, characterization, climax, conflict, conclusion, etc. Perhaps rhyme or poetic prose will be used to tell the story, allowing children to hear the way the language sounds and how that can add to the story.”

Adding to a story is one of the most fun parts of making up your own bedtime stories. Making things up off the cuff helps my kids to be curious and imaginative.

Also, according to the article, oral storytelling helps with memory, something that surprised me. “Without books or illustrations, children have to remember key points of the plot and character names. This is an excellent exercise in memorization skills and it also may help guide children when they wish to write a story of their own.” All this is true. Both my son and daughter can tell a story, thanks to many years of me telling stories. My daughter’s report cards for years, in English, have said that she’s such a good writer, she could write professionally, because of her use of imaginative metaphors.

If you feel like one of the many parents out there who just don’t have the skill to just make up a story, all you need to do is type in ‘Bedtime Story Starters,’ and a host of ideas will pop up to help get you started making up your own stories.

The one and only problem with making up stories is that, eventually, because your children believe in your story about a belly button family who moved in across the street, or that I was once a mermaid, turned human by a wizard, and you eventually get caught. Once my daughter asked, ‘So, wait. You told me you came from the Planet Mars before I was born. So were you a mermaid after that or before your spaceship crashed into earth?’ Yeah, I’ve been busted, because, while my made-up stories may help their memories, I’ve conjured up so many stories that I’m the one who often forgets what stories I have made up for them.

My son’s father worries that I’m screwing his little brain up, by making him believe all of my made-up stories before bed. I’m not so sure. When I was young, I told my baby brother that someone dropped him on the doorstep in a box, and that when our mother saw him, she slammed the door. For years, I told my baby brother that I was the one who let him in the house, which meant he had to be forever grateful to me. He seems to have turned out just fine…and guess what?

Thirty years after the fact, my brother still remembers that story I told him…and he’s also an avid adult reader.

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