Vary a child's bedtime routine with special surprises and storytelling

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Bedtime is bedtime. It's a routine that shouldn't take on shades of a circus, nor should it drag around the clock. But there's no reason a few frills can't be added now and then. The nightly activities can include room-tidying, bath, and a snack before reading time. There's nothing wrong, however, in reading a story during the room cleanup or bath. It's not wrong for a child to have enjoyed his bedroom with toys and games. Thus, the pickup time isn't punishment; it's just a necessary task that is made more pleasant with a story. Little children who require some watching at bath time enjoy do-it-myself independence as a parent quietly observes while reading a story.

Even the before-bed cracker-and-milk time can be accompanied by reading, and when this simple snack is brought to the child's bedroom on a tray, he feels like royalty. Spending time in a child's room helps the parent understand how the room is used and what a child's needs are in his domain; it provides time for quiet talk without other family members around. I know a parent who once stretched out on his child's bed for a chat, looked up, and saw a very water-stained ceiling. ``When did that happen?'' h e asked. His daughter replied, ``It happens all the time when it rains. Aren't the designs neat?''

Story time is the highlight of bedtime for most children. Usually there are books to read -- well-loved ones and new ones. But don't forget storytelling -- a creative part of growing up. Storytelling uses the imagination, lets new ideas be shared, and becomes a valuable part of the bedtime tradition.

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Our family boasts three generations of storytellers. My grandfather told my father bedtime stories about elves in the tower clock of the large plant where he worked. The stories were full of dark intrigue but also passed along a few facts about clock mechanisms, since my grandfather was in charge of that four-faced clock tower.

So it wasn't unusual that my dad became my storyteller, adding a new approach. His stories always began with the line ``One day in my airplane, I was flying over my orange grove. . . .'' (He had neither a plane nor a grove, but that didn't matter.) After a sentence or two, he would stop and say, ``So the next thing that happened was . . . ,'' and I would have to pick up the story. In many installments we toured the world, saved people in distress, threw oranges to Eskimo children, visited kingdoms that

had never even seen an airplane.

By the time our children were ready for creative storytelling (about age 3) we had a mixture of elements: clocks that flew, oranges that turned into children, elves that had never seen a plane. But the best thing was the way the children participated, each awaiting a turn to make up part of the story. One child often tried to foil the direction of the story by saying: ``Somehow, that ended happily and mean while, . . .'' taking up his own line of thought. It was never dull!

If you decide to mix storytelling in with story reading, you may want to consider these suggestions:

No one should be storyteller for more than three to five sentences.

The storyteller chooses the next person to pick up the plot by just pointing at him -- and that person starts right in talking.

Mixing fact and fiction is great since this is a pleasant way for parents to include some subtle learning. For example: ``One day I was standing in the garden by the rutabagas -- that's a Swedish turnip you know. . . .''

Repeat elements from one story time to the next. Use the same character again (or always have a clock, a plane, or an orange in your story).

Occasionally tell the story in the dark. This makes a dark room a friendly place to be and hastens sleep when the story ends.

The bedtime routine is best when it has surprises now and then. Allowing a child to read for 15 minutes before turning out the light, letting kids switch beds occasionally, playing a cassette in the dark -- are welcome innovations.

And children should learn that on some occasions they go to bed without any routine at all because parents have something else that must be done.

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