Story Time Success

From the Editors of Ideas That Spark

By Aviva Patz

It might seem like kids’ brains are now more stimulated than ever with all the media they’re exposed to -- TV, the Internet, computer games, cell phones. But in fact, all that electronic input is actually eroding their sense of imagination, educators say. “When children are given images, they don’t learn to form pictures in their mind’s eye, which is the basis of creative imagination,” says Elizabeth Rose, Ed.S., director of National Youth Storytelling Showcase, an organization that aims to get youth involved in storytelling.

When you tell made-up stories, on the other hand, kids automatically paint their own picture. “The story, the scenery and the characters come to life inside their minds,” says Rose. Storytelling is also a bonding opportunity. Inventing a story for your child is one of the most personal, memorable ways to show your love. “Anyone can sit and read Goodnight Moon, but when parents make up a story for their children, it’s uniquely theirs,” says Rose.

Make your storytelling time a riveting, engaging and unforgettable experience that will stimulate your child’s imagination for years to come, with these easy guidelines:

Go into detail When describing characters, scenery and plot twists, engage all five senses -- you want your child to not just see the images but also practically feel, hear, taste and smell them, too. For example: “The dress was red like a delicious apple and as soft as a rabbit’s fur” or “It smelled sweet like the wild roses in our garden.”

Make it relevant There should be elements of the story to which your child can easily relate. If your story takes place in ancient Egypt or the dinosaur age, maybe the Egyptian prince is a 3-year-old boy with cropped brown hair, or the little triceratops is fighting with his sister over toys.

Personalize it Tap into your child’s likes and dislikes to make the story more personal and appealing. Perhaps the baby bear you describe loves to mix three cereals for breakfast or is frightened of midnight monsters under her bed. Incorporate your child’s favorite colors, hobbies, foods, relatives, places visited and experiences she’s had.

Make it interactive Remember how much fun you used to have with Mad Libs? Recreate that experience by asking your child to fill in colors, names and other details in the story. “Kids feel more engaged and more invested in the tale when they contribute to it,” Rose says. “It builds their self-esteem, hones their decision-making skills and empowers them to feel that they can tell stories, too.”

Get silly Come up with funny names -- Sleema the slithering snake or Mergatroid Moosemouse -- high and low voices or even foreign accents. Acting not only entertains kids (wow, Mommy’s hilarious!), but it also gives them license to explore their own silly and dramatic sides, too.

Follow up Ask if your child has any questions about the story, to push the imagination further. He might wonder, “What if the space ship landed on Venus instead of Mars?” Ask him right back, “What do you think would have happened?” Or ask your child for highlights: What was your favorite part? Do you think Freddie Flitwick should have told his friend about the horse? Reviewing aspects of the story reinforces comprehension.

Above all, have fun! You’ll fire up both your imaginations more than even the best book ever could.