Beyond the Book

Using Story Time to Enchant and Enhance

By Maxine Rose Schur

As parents, we know how much kids love a good story before bedtime. Yet, at the end of our busy days, tired moms and dads often keep this evening ritual to a reading of the text. Studies have shown that children whose parents read to them do better in school because there are numerous benefits to bedtime stories beyond the story. Here are some “beyond the story” ideas to make story time for your child not only more educational, but also inspiring and fun!

Expand Vocabulary

We often read stories to children that have words they don’t know. Children often ignore words as they get the story “as a whole.” But it’s important to stop at times to ask your child if they know what a word means. And to expand on the definition, make a note to use that very word in a sentence a few times in the coming weeks to reinforce its meaning and to model how the word is used in context. Don’t shy away from books that may have large words. After all, in The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter, the first sentence is: “It is said that eating too much lettuce is soporific.” Soporific! Now that’s a fun-sounding word to know!

Get to Know Your Child

If you’re like so many parents these days, the evening story time may be your only daily quality time with your child. Make it count. You can use the story to learn things about your child that they cannot articulate. To provide a personal example, in my last blog I wrote how I was obsessed with the book, Heidi, when I was five years old. This was a period in my life when I couldn’t walk and wanted my mother to read me the book over and over again. As an adult, I realized that each time my mother read it, I fancied myself the healthy, Alps-wandering girl, not the crippled Clara, confined to a wheelchair. This was my dearest, unarticulated wish—to walk and even run as Heidi did. Today, I would advise a parent to make your child’s implicit connection to a character, explicit. Simply ask, “Which character would you like to be and why?”

The questions you ask are not only important for you to know your child better, they’re important to encourage your child’s self-awareness. For example, ask “How did this story (or scene) make you feel?” or “Did something like that ever happen to you?” or “What would you have done if this happened to you?” In the picture book, My Little Red-Headed Sister by Lori Ries, a girl explains why her sister is different from her as she’s blonde and her sister has red hair but then describes the ways they are the same, i.e. they both love pizza and playing silly games. This book provides excellent prompts to ask your child, “In which ways are you different from your brother or sister and in which ways are you alike?”

Master Fears and Insecurities

Children closely identify with the characters in a book, whether that character is of a different gender, an animal, or an inanimate object. If the story has a character who is shy, does silly things, makes a foolish choice, or if the character has a fear or insecurity, you’ve got an opportunity ripe for discovery. Ask your son or daughter if he or she has ever done anything silly or made a mistake or is fearful of something? To encourage dialog, you could first reveal something about yourself—what you were afraid of or when you made a mistake or did something silly. I use this technique when I read my books as a visiting author at schools and libraries. For instance, my book Marielle in Paris is about a fashion-designing mouse who’s afraid of heights. When a great wind scatters her gorgeous dresses all over Paris, she must fly on the back of her pigeon friend to locate and retrieve her dresses. It’s a story of overcoming one’s fear, and I always say that I wrote this story because I was and still am fearful of heights. I ask the children what they are afraid of and then we’re off on a lively conversation about our fears and ways to overcome them.

In her picture book, Brave in the Water, author Stephanie Wildman tells of a boy who’s afraid to learn to swim. He is scared to even put his face in the water. His fear makes him feel bad about himself. Many children have a fear of learning to swim and Brave in the Water is a supportive tool to share feelings with children in overcoming the shame of being afraid of water, the dark, dogs . . . or anything else. Speaking of scary stories, a young child’s vivid imagination may keep you from reading a story that you may not think is particularly scary. But also keep in mind, some children relish a scary story to be told over and over again as for them it’s an unconscious way of mastering a fear.

The questions you ask are not only important for you to know your child better, they’re important to encourage your child’s self-awareness. For example, ask “How did this story (or scene) make you feel?” or “Did something like that ever happen to you?” or “What would you have done if this happened to you?” In the picture book, My Little Red-Headed Sister by Lori Ries, a girl explains why her sister is different from her as she’s blonde and her sister has red hair but then describes the ways they are the same, i.e. they both love pizza and playing silly games. This book provides excellent prompts to ask your child, “In which ways are you different from your brother or sister and in which ways are you alike?”

Find the Hidden Message

Story time offers opportunities for reading comprehension. You can easily entwine reading comprehension with encouraging self-awareness by asking this simple question: “What do you think is the hidden message in the story?” This question not only prompts the child to understand the story on a deeper level but provides another opportunity for the child to understand his/her relationship to a character. In my picture book, Child of the Sea, a beautiful fish is found by a fisherman then the fish changes into a baby girl. The girl is adopted by the fisherman and his wife but when she grows up she yearns to return to the sea. Her heartbroken parents enable her return. The story’s underlying theme is universal: we need to be true to our authentic selves. It also gives the message that real love involves sacrifice. These messages are implicit but they can be carved in relief for children by gentle questioning as to the “hidden message.” Through the magic of story, even very young children can understand powerful, abstract ideas.

In her picture book, Brave in the Water, author Stephanie Wildman tells of a boy who’s afraid to learn to swim. He is scared to even put his face in the water. His fear makes him feel bad about himself. Many children have a fear of learning to swim and Brave in the Water is a supportive tool to share feelings with children in overcoming the shame of being afraid of water, the dark, dogs . . . or anything else. Speaking of scary stories, a young child’s vivid imagination may keep you from reading a story that you may not think is particularly scary. But also keep in mind, some children relish a scary story to be told over and over again as for them it’s an unconscious way of mastering a fear.

The questions you ask are not only important for you to know your child better, they’re important to encourage your child’s self-awareness. For example, ask “How did this story (or scene) make you feel?” or “Did something like that ever happen to you?” or “What would you have done if this happened to you?” In the picture book, My Little Red-Headed Sister by Lori Ries, a girl explains why her sister is different from her as she’s blonde and her sister has red hair but then describes the ways they are the same, i.e. they both love pizza and playing silly games. This book provides excellent prompts to ask your child, “In which ways are you different from your brother or sister and in which ways are you alike?”

Encourage Wonder

“Knowledge begins in wonder,” said Socrates so perhaps the most important sense you can encourage during reading time is a sense of wonder. Books not only teach, but they can also encourage curiosity. Using open-ended questions is a wonderful way to ignite curiosity.
If we take a story we all know as an example, The Wizard of Oz, we see the ideas for wonder are endless. Questions such as “What makes a tornado?” “Why can’t you ride a bicycle in the air?” “The Tinman is afraid of rusting—but what is rust?” “What is a dream?”

At story time, keep in mind the words of Rachel Carson, the acclaimed conservationist and author, who wrote in her book, The Sense of Wonder, “It is more important to pave the way for a child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts.”

In her picture book, Brave in the Water, author Stephanie Wildman tells of a boy who’s afraid to learn to swim. He is scared to even put his face in the water. His fear makes him feel bad about himself. Many children have a fear of learning to swim and Brave in the Water is a supportive tool to share feelings with children in overcoming the shame of being afraid of water, the dark, dogs . . . or anything else. Speaking of scary stories, a young child’s vivid imagination may keep you from reading a story that you may not think is particularly scary. But also keep in mind, some children relish a scary story to be told over and over again as for them it’s an unconscious way of mastering a fear.

The questions you ask are not only important for you to know your child better, they’re important to encourage your child’s self-awareness. For example, ask “How did this story (or scene) make you feel?” or “Did something like that ever happen to you?” or “What would you have done if this happened to you?” In the picture book, My Little Red-Headed Sister by Lori Ries, a girl explains why her sister is different from her as she’s blonde and her sister has red hair but then describes the ways they are the same, i.e. they both love pizza and playing silly games. This book provides excellent prompts to ask your child, “In which ways are you different from your brother or sister and in which ways are you alike?”

Spark Imagination

Life is unpredictable, and we all live with ambiguity about the future. Just as a life can have endless possibilities and proceed in unexpected directions, so can a story. So, another fun exercise is to make up a new direction and ending for the plot. In my book, Finley Finds his Fortune, I ask children, “What would happen if Finley took a different path to the village and never saw the grain mill?” or “If vain Lars would have found a large fortune, what would he have done with it?” These questions not only promote abstract thinking but may inspire budding storytellers!

Get Silly

My chapter book, Gullible Gus, isn’t big on morals or messages; it’s big on silliness. Composed of three tall tales within a larger “frame tale,” the stories are full of hyperbole. I use a lot of wild words simply because they sound funny such as flapdoodle, hog wallow, bamboozle, poppycock and taradiddle. Ask your child, “Can you think of other words that sound funny and are fun to say?” Spark their imagination by proposing, “Let’s make up our own funny-sounding word and give it our very own meaning!”

Resources at the Ready

It’s easy to find loads of information right from the internet to enhance your story time. On YouTube, for instance, you can find fun short videos just for kids that explain everything from airplanes to zebras. And, if you’ll be reading a Lawley Publishing Book, just click the Resources tab, Lawley Book Resources, on their website to find activities and ideas to enhance your story time.
Maxine Rose Schur is the award-winning author of many incredible books, including Child of the Sea, The Marvelous Maze, Gullible Gus, There’s a Babirusa in My Bathtub, and the darling ABC book, Pigs Dancing Jigs!

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