How to Tell a Bedtime Story

Do you have a bedtime tradition with your kids? A story they never tired of hearing? Let's share in the comments!

It’s great to read to your child, no doubt about it. But I’ll never forget all the impromptu stories my father told me at bedtime. When my daughter was a toddler, I tried to keep this tradition alive in our house.

After we’ve read some books in the living room, I’d tuck her in and ask if she wants me to tell her a story (the answer is always yes, followed by “just one more, please!”).

At first, I felt nervous. How was I going to make up something interesting and fun on the fly? My dad revealed a few helpful tips—passed down from his own father—and they never fail me.

And yes, always begin with “Once Upon a Time,” and finish with “The End.”

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1. Pick a story theme that ties into something relevant in your child’s life. Whether she’s currently excited about, say, turtles or Dora the Explorer, incorporate them into the storyline.

2. Make your child the lead character. He’ll love a story that centers on him.

3. Just as you encourage your kids to use their imaginations, use yours too! If we’re talking turtles, why not send your child and her fictional best friend off to find a friendly talking turtle to ride in the ocean for instance?

4. Speaking of ocean, you’ve just added another element to your story. If you’ve recently taken your child to the beach, you can now add details to the story that remind him of the fun he had there. So when his turtle gets tired and drops him off at the seashore, it’s time to build a sandcastle or go on a shell-collecting excursion. Go into detail about the different shapes and colors of shells he finds. It’s a great opportunity to introduce or hone new vocabulary.

5. People your story with characters from your child’s life—including yourself, her teachers, friends, neighbors, pets. At bedtime, it’s soothing for kids to think about those they love and trust.

6. Wrap up the story with a happy ending (you don’t want to induce nightmares), preferably one that involves your child snuggled in his bed after a great adventure.

Photo Credit: AVAVA/

About Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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