Oaring through 1001 myrrh-soaked Arabian nights on Persian carpets, hobnobbing with Oompa Loompas, adventuring with boys who wouldn’t grow up, sneaking into secret rose gardens with orphaned heroines...! The entire world has opened up to generations of children, thanks to bedtime stories. And the experts who brought them to life in grand detail indeed, are our parents.
What was once the most exciting part of a child’s day is now threatening to slip into an eternal slumber. A recent survey found that only 30% of parents read to their children every day. Does this indicate most parents today are failing to see the benefits of sharing bedtime stories with their children?
Bedtime storytelling goes to sleep
India has a strong and ancient storytelling tradition. Gayathri Ramanujam, the founder of storytelling institute, Kathalaya, explains, “In the olden days, in small towns and villages across India, Harikathas would be narrated late into the evening. Listening to these tales was said to be very healing. It would calm the mind and induce sleep.“
In India, stories were generally told late in the evening. In the West, storytelling would take place around a fireplace before bedtime, to give children warmth and a sense of security. All this, of course, died with the advent of TV, which has a reverse effect on sleep. Parents are unable to make room to tell night-time stories these days as most of them reach home only after the kids are fast asleep. It would be unfair to blame parents for working long hours to give their kids the privileges they perhaps didn’t enjoy as children. Banker Sangeetha’s story is a case in point. “When my daughter was young, her grandparents would do the storytelling. Now that she is a little older, her iPad tells her stories. But as a working mom, I never seem to have the time,” she rues.
The many benefits of bedtime storytelling
Storytime develops the reading habit and fosters creativity in addition to improving communication skills. Involving your children in the process of storytelling, weaving their ideas and experiences into the story, and asking them probing questions can kindle their imagination besides nurturing their deductive reasoning skills. Author/historian Vikram Sampath reveals that the story times he enjoyed with his grandmother when he was a toddler, directly impacted his career.
“I would insist that she tell me a new story every single day. She’d blend in folk tales with mythology and make it extremely exciting,” he recollects. “I remember the night she told me the story about the Rani of Talakad and her curse on the Wodeyars (Mysore maharajas). I think that was the story which sparked my interest in the subject. Thirteen years later, what started as a grandmother-grandson thing, has translated into a full book on the Wodeyars, for which I am now known as a historian!” Vidhya V, a central excise inspector, uses bedtime stories to educate her 10-year-old son about Indian culture. “This half-an-hour session helps me bond with him while keeping him rooted to his culture. I’ll be very sad when the day comes when he tells me he’s too old for bedtime stories,” she laughs!
What’s a good age to start telling stories?
Experts say that the best age to start storytelling is when your child is two years old. You could either read from a book or invent your own fantastical fables. Besides, cooking up stories can be a participatory process wherein kids can take part in shaping the story. Ideally, the session should last about 20 minutes.
This should be a last resort, ideally. But if you really have no time to spare, look no further than audio books and talking pyjamas! American innovators have come up with hi-tech pyjamas, known as Smart PJs, which have 47 scannable dot patterns. With these, all you need to do is to download an app and use a smartphone to scan one of the dozens of codes printed on the smart PJs. Accordingly, the device will either read out a story or sing a lullaby.
But, as cool as these innovations sound, they are nowhere as effective and enjoyable as the real thing. The cozy warmth of a human voice versus the synthetic tone of a battery-operated object... it shouldn’t even be a contest. After all, as Salman Rushdie rightly pointed out, “We are the storytelling animal.” Well, if such is the case, perhaps it’s time you acted on your animal instinct! Your kids will love you even more for it.
Steps to master bedtime story telling
- Start by turning off the TV set and unpeel yourself from the couch. Next, go to your child’s room and tuck him/her into bed. Turn off all the lights save for the night lamp. The ambience is now set.
- Choose a story based on your child’s interests.
- If you aren’t able to think of any interesting tales, just talk about how you were as a child. It might sound boring to you but will enthral your young ward.
- Go slow. If you speak too fast, your child won’t have the time to picture the wondrous scenarios.
- Change your voice for the different characters. Choose a distinct tone for each role. If you’re self-conscious about cackling like a witch or warbling like a bird... well, you’ll get used to it!
- Props will make the experience even more magical. Make use of handmade puppets, stuffed animals, train sets, cars and dolls as triggers for story ideas.
- If your child is just learning to talk, read the same story again and again, for a few days. This will aid in the development of language and memory.