Story writing begins with story telling. Here are some ways I encouraged my daughter’s imagination with bedtime storymaking.

             “Your daughter always has something to say whenever I ask for class input,” my daughter’s second grade teacher said. “Sometimes it’s not even true,” she added with a polite, condescending smile, as if we had sent our child to school with unmatched socks.

            No room for imagination. I felt like shaking the woman and explaining that I had spent many bedtime story sessions helping my children exercise their imaginations by playing with words and exploring new ideas.

            When they were toddlers, I would make up stories that recalled familiar people and places we had recently visited. These were not elaborate stories with intricate plots. A common formula would be: “Once there two girls named (Daughter 1) and (Daughter 2) who went with their mom and dad to aunt Betty’s farm…”

Then I’d ask them to remember things that happened.

            The real fun begins with made-up adventure episodes where one child (rotating older and younger children in these roles) gets lost or stuck and the other figures out how to help them. Ask them to brainstorm solutions and build them into the story.

            Another fun variation is to have something silly happen in the middle of an otherwise ordinary event:

“So, Trisha and her mom and dad and her sister Anna stopped for ice cream on the way to the park. Anna had a strawberry cone…

“No, no. I had a chocolate ice cream cone.”

“Right, it was a chocolate cone. And she had just taken one lick when a little dachshund waddled up to her and sat up to beg. Anna bent over to pet the dog and PLOP! Her scoop of chocolate ice cream landed right on the dog’s nose. The poor dog looked at the ice cream kind of cross-eyed. That’s when Anna bent over and took a lick from the top of the scoop and….”

            One favorite theme involves a long line of people, animals and vehicles chasing or being pulled by the lead culprit:

“Anna and Trisha were roasting marshmallows on the beach. Anna reached over to her mother and asked, ‘Mommy is mine done?’ when a feisty little squirrel grabbed the marshmallow and started running. ‘Hey!’ Anna shouted as she grabbed the squirrel’s tail. ‘That’s mine and you can’t have it!’ The squirrel bounded for the trees and as it started to fly through the air Trisha grabbed her sister’s shirt…”

            Maximum involvement comes with ‘and then…’ stories. The parent starts with a premise:

“One spooky, rainy night Trisha kept hearing animal footsteps on the back porch. She got out of bed, turned on the light and looked out the window…and then…”

            The next person would have to keep the story going for a short bit and then pass off to someone else.

             One fun group of stories involves a repeating phrase e.g. ‘It won’t be long now!’ Start with any creature that has a tail – squirrel, dog, snake, salamander – and take him through any number of misadventures where his tail would get caught in – you name it – a, slamming car door, closing window, sliding shower door. Then he would look back at his shortened appendage, ‘And what do you think he said?’ The children answer, ‘It won’t be long now!’

            Funny names help: Snively Sam the snake, Newton Fig the Newt, Teddly Turtell the turtle. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would probably take exception to these stories. But I think they serve the educationally redeeming purpose of alerting children to potential safety hazards around the home.

            An old standby involves stories from the parent’s own childhood. My children responded to the continuity and rooting in time and place that comes with family stories. They especially enjoy any admission of fallibility, mistake or poor judgment on my part which probably lifts expectations of perfection from their shoulders.

            In the end, story telling is a time to stretch imaginations, to look for humor in life around us, to laugh at ourselves and the constraints of literal truth as one old saying would have it…all stories are true and some of them actually happened.

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