Parent and child writing activity: Collaborative bedtime story

bedtime story

Oral storytelling has been around since the earliest civilizations. We may have evolved from chanting myths about how the mountains became the way they are while we grind stones into tools, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep tradition alive! One of my favourite things as a kid was when right before bed time when my mum and I would take turns continuing the story of “Marta,” the teen girl in astronaut school (naturally, this was a possibility in our world). “Writing” your own bedtime story is surprisingly easy. And it’s a good break from the monotony of reading the same story your child asks for over and over again, every night. As an added bonus, creating your own bedtime stories tends to appeal to a wider age range and can still be exciting for kids who are already adept readers. So put down the collection of fairy tales and try something new!

  • Don’t know where to start? Check out the “combat writer’s block” section of the blog or the “spotlight” section’s past prompts. Or simply think of an out there person, place, or thing to get you started. What does your child want to be when he/she grows up? What would make the most awesome pet? What would the world be like if it were made of cotton candy? You can also base a story around on of your child’s interests, whether that is animals or the really awesome swing set at the park. Pick an idea and start storytelling because there is no right or wrong. You’ll be surprised where even a simple idea can take you. And if you don’t like a story or get tired of the one you are telling, pick a new idea and start again.
  • It’s true that your story can be about whatever you want and can follow any plotline, but it is still helpful to have someone who makes sure you don’t get caught up in tangents. Whoever is the “listener” of the story that night is in charge of making sure the story keeps chugging along. It’s important to describe key elements of your story like the main character and setting. But if you or your child stay off track for too long, the other can gently bring them back to the story by asking guiding questions, like “Marta’s breakfast sounds delicious, but what was the first thing she did that day in astronaut school after she left her house?”
  • Part of what makes these storytelling sessions fun is that you are only “writing” small chunks of the story at a time. So keep each bedtime story session to no more than ten minutes maximum. When you finish storytelling for the night, jot down on a pad the point at which you left off in the story. That way it will be easy to pick up where you left off the next night.
  • Play to your strengths. Children have crazy imaginations, so they will be great at coming up with the initial inspiration and adding details. However, you will probably have to supply more of the actual plot of the story.
  • Play “yes, and…” It’s an important rule in improv comedy to never shut down your collaborator’s ideas. You have to take what the other person says and just go with it! This doesn’t mean you can’t guide the story along and give it some structure, but it means that in the world of spontaneous bedtime stories, you have to accept your child’s ideas, no matter how whacky!

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