We think that going to bed with a story is a great way to expose our kids to imagination, slow things down to get them sleepy to nod off, have a quality moment of peace, quiet and joy with their little faces all focused on the story. It is. It does all that. It is a particularly amazing moment in the lives of parents and kids. As the story gets read, all seems right with the world. Any challenges of the day disappear behind the metaphors, characters and great prose that fill most families of young kids’ houses.
Arms filled with books
I remember the days of sorting through library books, coming home with arms full of them knowing that each of my three girls would need to choose their own – mostly by the image on the cover. We read books with animals – animal stories, animals as characters, animals on planets, animals in history, animal fiction, animal non-fiction. We read poetry about gardens, famous people, green eggs, the holidays and more animals. We read stories of kids as spies, as mystery solvers as good kids and horrible kids. We read stories of history from every time period and stories from every nationality. We read stories of planets and science to science fiction and fantasy. I read, they listened; they felt secure in their beds, ending one day and clearing the slate to start another. Going to bed with a story makes the world seem safe.
And then they grew up. Much of their reading now was for school. The classics, the progressive and obscure authors; college readying and textbooks. Thank goodness they chose to read these on their own. And I noticed that our time to read diminished as they stayed up later with homework and technology. They put themselves to bed with dreams of calculus, cell biology, the Renaissance and gerunds. Okay nightmares.
Shift from reading to telling stories
So as the kids, now older, came to spend time with me at my house after my divorce, they were already in the habit of getting themselves to bed. But because time was limited with them, getting them comfortable in their new surroundings needed something that always made them feel connected, relaxed and secure – it was time to bring back bedtime stories. But with them now so much older, some of the books that we used to read together were no longer the best choice. And more age appropriate books were too long, too complicated and not a good choice to send them off to slumber. But a bedtime story doesn’t have to be read – it can be told.
As they got comfortable in their beds, they tuned in as I told stories about them as kids, me as a kid, funny things that happened, most embarrassing moments, greatest lessons learned and other life events and adventures. We had our bedtime stories back and though I (and they) loved what we used to read, telling stories of real life, real lessons, real embarrassments, real excitement and real people involved them in the stories in a more significant way. Through listening, they were filling in the holes in their understanding of who their parents, families, friend and even they are – by understanding and reconnecting to their history and having it brought back with greater details and attention.
Bedtime stories last our kids a lifetime. Now as I visit my kids, 2 of the 3 are married, we share these stories over dinner and on the couch just before bed. But we still share stories. They calm the mind, engage the imagination, encourage feelings of security and love. And what kid (at any age) doesn’t want to hear about themselves – particularly in a story?
Build a tradition of bedtime stories that migrate to lifetime stories – both dads and moms. Shift from reading to telling stories. It will keep them engaged for life.