Bedtime is the most natural and easiest time for parents to begin to learn how to tell stories to their children, Norma Livo says, though long car trips can be saved by a story ``strung out over several hundred miles.'' ``Stories from literature the parent knows or folk tales retold make a good start,'' she says. ``But also tell a story in which the child or children are the main characters. Remember the elements of a folk tale: the characters, the problem, the possible solutions to the problem, and the actual solution to it that brings transformation to the main characters. Ask the children, `And what do you think happened next?' and they will supply the details,'' she says.
``Parents know their kids better than anyone else, and they know what sort of ideas will engage them. Very easy, ordinary things appeal to small children like `there once was a little girl named Emily and at 10 o'clock, oh, at 10 o'clock Emily met a Roly-Poly. At 11 o'clock the Roly-Poly was hungry, so what do you think Emily did?' And Emily will tell you what she wants included. You can tell the story of the child's whole day.''
Ms. Livo suggests several themes for parent-child stories, such as family history: How the grandparents met and married; what your own wedding day was like; what it was like for immigrant relatives to come to this country. Take out an old photo and tell its story; tell stories about uncles and aunts. What did the parent like to do at the child's age? Anything the child or the parent cares about makes good subject matter.
Children also like to hear favorite fairy tales retold from a different perspective: ``The Three Little Pigs'' from the point of view of the wolf, for example. The kids will enjoy correcting a parent's ``mistakes.''
``The most important thing is to tell the stories you like. And put in lots of description,'' Livo insists.