My Toddler Tells Me a Bedtime Story

To flex my toddler’s creative muscles, I asked her to tell me a bedtime story.

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The Dumpling’s imagination has been developing rapidly in the past month. Instead of only seeing objects as they are, she can now envision them as something else in her make-believe play. For example, she played with an iPhone box as if it was a car, saw a train in the shadow casted by our curtains, and re-enacted a scene from the Minions movie with a dinosaur cookie cutter and play dough.

Imagination is an important skill for a child to acquire because the ability to think creatively and differently builds a world of infinite possibilities—there’s always a new idea, invention, or method waiting to be dreamed up. While I don’t think there’s a surefire method to teach imagination like the way shapes, colors, letters, and numbers are taught, creativity is like a muscle—the more it’s used, the more it develops. Therefore, the best I can do as a parent is to look for opportunities for the Dumpling to exercise it as much as possible.

I have shared in my past entries that reading with the Dumpling has been an ongoing challenge in our household. Instead of forcing her to do something she didn’t want to, I actually packed her books away (quite literally since we were moving) and stopped bedtime stories for a few months. I recently reintroduced them back into our nightly routine…with a new twist. Instead of me doing the reading, I asked the Dumpling to tell me a story instead. She obviously cannot read yet, so I helped her string together a simple narrative by digging deep into our imagination.

We first created the characters using illustrations from “Goodnight Little Remy,” a personalized book that depicts various animals wishing the Dumpling a good night. The actual story, as the author intended, was entirely irrelevant; we just needed the visuals as a starting point. I facilitated by asking the Dumpling a series of questions about what her characters did or intend to do, how they feel, and what their relations are with each other…essentially anything that is not shown in the artwork.

The questions were all relatable to the Dumpling’s everyday life and her responses often reflected that. If she couldn’t answer (which was often the case at the beginning), I presented her with a list of choices to pick from until she nodded her head in agreement. Below are sample questions based on a spread featuring owls in the book.

  • “What is the owl’s name? Is it Bob? Kevin? Stuart?”
  • “Does the owl have a Mommy? Daddy? Brother? Sister? Friends?”
  • “Are the owls and birds neighbors? Are they friends?”
  • “How are the owls feeling? Are they happy? Sad? Hungry? Angry?”
  • “What did they have for breakfast? Banana? Apple? Kiwi?”
  • “Did the owls ride the train or go to the playground?”

Once we gathered enough details, I pieced together a story based on the Dumpling’s answers. After repeating this activity for a week (with multiple rounds of revision on her end), she was even able to tell me bits and pieces of her own story!

As I mentioned previously, the real story was not important. I never corrected the Dumpling by reading what’s printed on the text. My goal was to nurture her imagination, therefore, it didn’t matter if her tale defied the rules of physics, space, and time. I’m pretty sure there will be many people in her lifetime that would tell her that her ideas are impossible—I’ll try not to be one of them.

Goodnight Little Remy
Retold by the Dumpling (with help from mommy)

There was a sleeping bird who flew across the night sky, over an empty house where an old grandpa once lived. The sleeping bird watched fireworks and visited a bird family. There was a Daddy Bird (because he’s big), Mommy Bird (also because she’s big), Brother Bird, Sister Bird, and Baby Bird. There was also a Friend Bird who will grow up to be a dinosaur. RAWR! The Friend Bird was very popular because he had multiple girlfriend birds.

The Baby Bird lived in a nest with two other eggs, but the eggs would become the Dumpling’s snack when she gets hungry. Nom! Nom! Nom!

All of the birds like going to the playground and down the slide with their friends and neighbors, the owls! The owl family has a Daddy Owl, Mommy Owl, Brother Owl, Sister Owl, and Baby Owl. The owls were not happy because they didn’t love each other.

The end.

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