I can’t remember how it began. One day, I just started making up stories on the spot and incorporating the habit into my son’s bedtime routine. I always loved stories that started with “Once Upon a Time…” and I think my parents occcaionally told stories this way when I was little, always using my brothers or I as the “star” character depending on who requested it. Now, every day, my husband or I tell our three year old a “Once Upon a Time” story as a transition to nap or bedtime. My son usually has a specific request, like “I want one where I see a volcano erupting” or “Tell me one where little brother and I are driving big trucks at a construction site”. Sometimes, it gives us a unique chance to peer into his psyche- he’ll ask for a story about potty training success or failure, arguing with a friend about a toy, or one of his fears, like a run-in with a mean giant or a house fire. We often use these on-the-spot stories as a parenting tool to reinforce values and morals we want to communicate, or explaining how to deal with conflicts or express feelings. Sometimes the stories are simply fun. My preschooler has begun critiquing them, saying “Thats a really good one!” or “That’s not the story I asked for!” which allows him to practice being a critic and allows me a chance to experiment with what elements make a good story (I’ve learned that subject matter is less important than a good narrative with clear beginning, middle and end, for example).
Fortunately, my son is very verbal and has always loved books, but our family tradition has increased his interest in reading and telling stories himself, and his narrative skills have blossomed in the past year. I’ll catch him in a room playing with toys and making up stories about them. We often use toys or stuffed animals around the house as props to make up stories or act out a narrative. One of my favorite websites, Zero to Three, discusses some more ideas about increasing narrative and other early literacy skills and behaviors. I highly recommend this website as a resource for helping choose books that match specific ages and developmental stages.