Said the three-year-old to his mother one summer afternoon as they were backing out of the driveway: “I saw a cowboy yesterday.”
“You did?” his mother replied.
“Yes, and he had a horse, then it turned into a dinosaur and they were running and the dinosaur bit his head off…But he didn’t go to heaven to be with Grandma Leslie.”
Sound familiar? Maybe not the exact details, but if you have spent any significant amount of time around children, you will quickly pick up on one thing for sure: kids are amazing storytellers. And these stories seem to be as far-fetched as they come, filled with imaginary characters and adventures that would make Roald Dahl proud.
Though these stories can sometimes seem strange or even scary, they are typically an indication of a quest for plain old, good-natured fun for young children. In fact, storytelling and make-believe is vital for children, helping develop creativity, empathy, learning, and problem-solving skills.
So how can you encourage storytelling with the children in your life?
First of all, you can read, read, read. It is never too soon (or too late) to start nourishing a love of literature. You could start with the books you yourself used to enjoy as a child. What better way to bond than over a classic such as The Velveteen Rabbit? You could also check with your local library for their recommendations. They can guide you toward popular choices among young readers. You can also search online. For example, here is a list of the top 100 children’s books of all time, and here is a site that has online stories and activities you can do with your child.
Second, you can play story time with your child. A fun game is to take turns building a story as a family. One person begins however they want (such as “Once upon a time there were three brothers who went for a walk in the woods”), and each member takes turns adding a sentence to the story. If you are stumped for a beginning, here is a site that offers excellent story starters geared toward kids.
Finally, it is important that you keep storytelling in perspective. While no one likes to get lied to, when children make up stories it can actually be a good sign. It means their imaginations are at work and they are devising examples of what they wish had really happened.
So, back to the aforementioned cowboy. Instead of reminding the three-year-old with an active imagination that dinosaurs have been instinct for millions of years, the mom instead went along with the story. She asked what the cowboy was wearing.