Bedtime has always been a magical time. When a child lays their head on the pillow they go into a realm powered only by their imagination. It makes sense that the last thing they do before bed should encourage magical thoughts and sweet dreams. Storytime is an important ritual that both encourages a love of reading, but also forms a bond between parent and child that only a shared story can forge.
Every household is unique. Little rituals develop naturally from your child’s quirks. One of the great things about story time is that there is no right way to do it, just whatever makes everyone involved feel happy, safe and loved. The most special thing you can give your child is your time. These are a few suggestions for how to make that tie as magical as possible while still encouraging good lessons and good sleep.
- Make a Story Nook: This can be as simple as a nest of blankets or a pillow fort. Make a simple structure to give storytime a cozy, intimate feeling. An enclosure not only encourages a sleepy child to lay down, it also creates a magical and unique environment that signals the end of the day. For a child who is being encouraged to read on their own, a small, semi-permanent reading nook can give them a sense of both privacy and control of their own reading journey. A story nook can be anything from a small canopy at the head of the bed to a comfy chair all their own. Take it up a notch by adding fairy lights or reading with a flashlight. Flashlights could be used for shadow play too!
- Encourage Discussion: Sure, bedtime stories are about going to sleep, but that does not mean that they can’t be a time to learn. Is there a topic your child is passionate about? Pirates? Dinosaurs? The Roman Empire? Choose a night when you are going to read them a new book on the subject and do some of your own research in preparation. After reading the book, encourage a sleepy little discussion where you are able to answer some of their questions on the subject and expand on what the book says. This encourages critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. The routine can even be done with a child who has less academic interests. Does your little think burps are hilarious? Read them some fun (slightly gross) anatomical facts and get them thinking about their body and how it works! The sky's the limit when it comes to learning!
- Create a New Ritual: Some children are always going to fight going to sleep despite your best efforts. Endless stories and snuggles can only do so much with a child that sees bedtime as an extension of playtime. Sometimes a little magic can work wonders in changing behavior patterns. Create a step-by-step bedtime ritual that starts after teeth are brushed and ends when the head hits the pillow. For example, have a small colorful lamp that is turned on at the start of story time and goes out when it is time to sleep. The specialness of the action gives it a kind of magic that not only enhances story-time, but also gives a gentle finality to bedtime.
- Theme Stories: Stories have all kinds of messages and if you are reading several in one night your child may be getting quite a few different morals in a very short time. When multiple lessons are nice, they can make it hard for a child to absorb any one message from any one book. If you have a child who likes multiple books at bedtime, consider grouping ones with similar themes and lessons together. Then end with a short discussion tying them together and explaining why they’re related This will send your little off to bed with a consistent message for their sleeping brain to mull over.
- Expand on an Old Favorite: Of course not all children are going to let you read them different books every night. Having to read a beloved book over and over can be a comforting routine, but can also get repetitive after a while. Consider asking your child what they think happened after the story ended. Then tell them a little story based on their theory (or better yet, ask them to tell you a story)! This stimulates imagination without overstimulating a tired child, while breaking up the repetition and may have the added benefit of encouraging them to be ready for a different story that they can also expand on. Soon you’ll have an expanded universe of stories that are only for you and your little one!
- A Special Friend: Most people love puppets but have very limited opportunities to use them in their day-to-day lives. Justify that impulsively purchased muppet or painted paper bag by making them the M.C. of bedtime. This not only adds a sense of wonder to storytime, it also makes bedtime a treasured event where your child gets to see and interact with their puppet friend! The puppet can also help by making suggestions for stories or routine changes that your child might be more resistant to if they were to come from a parent.
- A Sweet Story: This is a once in a while treat that can leave a lasting impression! On a night when getting to bed is not as pressing, choose a book that heavily features a food your child loves, such as chocolate chip cookies for example. While reading to them say that the book is making you hungry. Tell your child that as a special treat you think you should make some cookies right now! Then a tube of cookie dough or some hand made dough can make you and your delighted little some illicit nighttime snacks to enjoy while finishing or re-reading the book. This is an amazing bonding activity that they will remember for years to come! Be sure to remind them that a late night snack also means an extra late night tooth brushing! For extra magic and to avoid this becoming an expected routine hide the book and bring it out only for special occasions!
- Sensing a Story: While cookies are a once-in-a-while bedtime treat, there is no reason not to indulge your child’s other senses during storytime. A few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser, a special soft storytime blanket, or the soothing sounds of music can all serve to underscore the experience of listening to a story. Children are tactile learners and will remember what you read to them with more clarity if they can experience it with their whole bodies. An added benefit is that the smells, feelings and sounds you play for them may become permanently associated with bedtime, giving them a language of comfort and rest that they can take with them through their whole lives.