The day had been long, and I was out of patience. It was well past bedtime when my littles asked, “Mama, just one more story?” My response was kind but firm - I was done. As I stood for two last goodnight kisses, my older boys bounded into the bedroom, asking if the littles wanted gardens planted on their backs. I was struck by their question – I hadn’t planted Nighttime Gardens in years...
Did they really remember from when they were little and I took the time to massage their backs, using my hands to “dig” rows for planting, “fill” the rows with dirt and have the “farmer” harvest his crops? Yes, they did remember. Their stories were different – more candy planting, rabbit chasing and farm feasting than my version – but the love, humor and meaningful connection was there nonetheless. The big brothers going through the motions on their little brothers’ backs and telling stories meant connections were being made in those last minutes before sleep. Though I had gotten tired and perhaps a bit lazy over the years, it seems my older boys had treasured that connection and carried those memories as a gift to their younger brothers – and had been doing it for weeks without my knowledge. It was like magic.
Stories are powerful.
Stories create connection, inspire emotional intelligence, and empower empathy.
Stories spark creativity, pass on the truths of the past, and fashion memories for the future.
How to harness these powers in your home:
Make Reading Aloud a Priority
When the 2020 pandemic began everything was cancelled. My husband was on medical leave and we felt like we were hanging in midair, waiting to drop into an even darker jungle of confusion below. At times it was hard to even remember how to breathe. Our family didn’t know what to do, but we knew being together sharing stories was a good place to start. Every day at lunchtime we would gather around the table and dive into ‘The Wild Robot’ by Peter Brown. We lived for weeks on an island with a robot named Roz and empathized with her plight of living in the wild – an outsider being forced to learn about something completely new and challenging – and cheered for her survival. As a family we looked forward to this time when we knew we could let the stresses of the pandemic subside while we convened to see life through the unexpected eyes of a robot. When uncertainty and fear threatened to keep us from connecting, our read aloud time rescued us. It was wonderful.
Ideas:Fill your home with literature and learn the not-so-tidy art of “strewing.” When your home is bursting with books – in baskets, on tables, leaning on window sills – your kids will always have a good book within arm’s reach. Instead of neatly lining books up on shelves with bindings facing out, strew the books with the covers up/facing out so that they draw the eye and create interest. You’ll love how naturally children of all ages pick up books - without being asked to – simply because of strewing.
“Pin” traditions/routines in your schedule. “Pin” your read aloud to breakfast time or have an older sibling read aloud on the way to school. Season changes make a fantastic backdrop for swapping out passing seasonal stories for the upcoming ones. These traditions “pin” the idea of read aloud (and thus, close connection) into the routine and minds of children – they become a normal part of life and create consistency when chaos reigns supreme.
Do you have a child easily distracted or disinterested in listening? Try Tandem Reading. My 11-year-old prefers laying down together and alternating reading paragraphs, pages and sometimes mere sentences. This helps him feel welcomed, engaged and keeps the purpose of reading on connection and bonding – the story is simply the cherry on top.
Remember that audiobooks are a fantastic form of read aloud. Consider placing Bluetooth or wireless speakers in your kids’ rooms for nighttime listening. I once read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to my then 7-, 4- and 1-year old children. It was a very long, tedious, *painful* 8 months of reading aloud. Never again. Instead, I let professional narrator Cherry Jones do the hard work for me.
Think your older children don’t need to be read to? Think again. In her book, ‘The Enchanted Hour: Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction,’ author Meghan Cox Gurdon says that reading aloud with children of all ages “creates invisible threads that will connect them to the parent, and her to them, and all of them back to the texts in a way that is unique to that family. When parents and children know the same secret-society books and comic lines, it has a wonderful way of reinforcing a sense of intimacy.” And who, more than tweens and teens, need to feel a strong sense of intimacy and connection with the adults who love them most?
Give your kids headlamps/flashlights with full permission to read books (no toys…) long into the night. The memories created with such characters as Paddington, Harry Potter or Dog Man in the dark with a single beam of light will be plentiful and well regarded into adulthood.
Encourage your child to read aloud to siblings. In our house, this is one of our boys’ daily chores/expectations. This helps to build strong reading skills, improve intonation, elocution and pacing. More importantly, it fosters meaningful connection and teaches them to perform an act of love for one another through storytelling.
My absolute favorite resource for finding great read aloud suggestions can be found at readaloudrevival.com/recommends. A veritable feast of stories listed in categories for all ages, preferred genres, etc. are available along with blog posts, podcasts and more.
Provide an Environment for Creative Expression
We have a saying at our house when screen time is done for the day: “It’s time to READ, REST, PLAY or CREATE.” This phrase may earn me some eyerolls, but by the end of the day it bears beautiful, imaginative fruit. The imagination is vital to the formation of a strong inner self – and too much screen time can blunt such growth. Stories are not just for reading; they are to be written as well! When screens are off, stories are brainstormed and spoken/acted/written/typed or otherwise brought into existence. It is a spectacular thing to behold.
Find a typewriter on Marketplace, Craigslist or at a garage sale. Few things in life bring me such joy as hearing my son click-clacking away on his old typewriter. From “tickets” being issued to his younger brothers for “Disturbing the Peace” to thrilling chapter books being written in the dead of night, having a typewriter at his fingertips has allowed stories – which might never have been told – to be brought to life.
For very young children, illustrations with drawings or stickers are wonderful ways to tell stories. Have your child narrate her story when she is done.
Graphic Novels! Old notebooks, blank comic strips and even scrap paper provide a clean canvas upon which a story can be told, one panel at a time.
Improv “Popcorn” Stories around the table. Delighting in creating stories one sentence at a time – jumping from person to person – is to delight in the company and creativity of one another.
Create a Hero’s Journal. Author Jonathan Auxier – a family favorite – recommends taking a journal wherever you go. The Hero’s Journal is filled with whatever comes to mind: What you See, What you Think, What you Daydream, and What you Read. You never know what might come of some simple doodles and thoughts jotted in a Hero’s Journal.
Nurture a habit of writing a little every day. From thank you notes, to chronicling a vacation or a pandemic (our boys kept a Diary of a COVID Kid in 2020 to record these historical moments). Learning to express thoughts on paper is a skill worth turning into a habit.
When you cultivate in your children a love of stories, they will associate reading and writing with warmth, closeness and care. While your child is likely to excel academically and become a lifelong learner – more importantly he will be powerful. He will grow to be an adult who is emotionally intelligent, creative, and empathetic. It’s like magic.
I was compensated with a game in exchange for this post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Sara E. Trim is a lifelong reader and truth seeker. Her fondest childhood memories include her sister teaching her how to read, listening to audiobooks upon the overhead bunk of an RV watching the road whizz by below, visiting the bookshop to add to her Little Critter collection (oh how the inky, papery smell of books takes her back to that place!), and reading by moonlight well into the night. She believes stories slow and enrich time with kids, and that reading aloud strengthens the bonds of love. When she isn’t reading or writing, you can find her outdoors experiencing the story of nature. She lives in Hartland, Michigan with her husband of 17 years and their four truth-seeking, book-loving boys.
A note from ThinkFun
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