When our son was a baby, my husband and I tried to instill in him a love of the written word. At first we would just read to him each day. But when he was able to talk and develop ideas of his own, we started telling and then writing stories together. We became adept at “scary stories,” his favorite genre. Somehow they all started with an old, abandoned home on a lonely hill and a young boy who was exploring it. Our son loved coming up with details and plot twists for these tales. But when he’d run out of ideas, he’d say, with a flourish, “The End!” Sometimes the stories were very short. Other days, he’d demand one after another, until I wanted to shout, “The End!”

Creating and writing family stories is a great way to spend time with your kids. It’s also an excuse to teach children about writing, reading and imagination – without them even realizing it. Here’s how you can develop family stories of your own.

Start simply. By the time they are three years old, children are ready to add small details to books and stories. You can encourage them by asking for their input. For instance, if you’re reading a book about a dog, ask your child questions about it: How does the dog feel about what’s happening in the story? What will the dog do next? If you could change something about the dog, what would it be? This will get your child thinking about characters and how to craft them.

If you’re telling a story, ask what kind of people or creatures should appear in the story. Ask what kind of problems the main character might encounter and how they might solve it, and so on. Have your children contribute more to the details and plot as they mature and are able to do so.

Get creative. Once your child can contribute to storytelling, start developing stories together. The best way to do this is to swap storytelling duties sentence by sentence. Choose one person to start the story. He might say, “Once upon a time, there was a young boy….” The next person then adds the second sentence such as, “...and the boy was the only human in a village of giants.” Then the first person adds another sentence and so on, until you are ready for the story to end.

If your child finds it hard to create sentences, ask questions to help move the story along. Ask where the character lived, what he is doing and why, if there’s anything that’s bothering him. Eventually your child will get the idea and come up with sentence after sentence.

Write them down. As your family’s stories become more interesting, start recording them. Your child can read them to a younger sibling, or for their own pleasure. When they’re older, they’ll get a kick out of seeing the stories your family created together. Involve your children in recording the stories. At first they may only be able to tackle the title with your help, but increase their writing responsibilities as they get older.

Build on your success. Creating and writing your stories is only the beginning. Our son loved for us to read our family stories at bedtime. When we did, you could see the pride he possessed in knowing he helped create them.

Use your imagination and let your stories be a springboard for other family fun. Use the stories to create plays or songs. Set the words to tunes you all know, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Write a poem about the story’s main character. Take a family outing related to your story. For example, if your story has a penguin in it, visit the zoo to see penguins.

No matter how you choose to create and write stories with your children, you can’t lose. You’ll spend memorable time with them while subtly teaching them about collaboration, writing, reading, and creativity.

Tara McClellan McAndrew is a Springfield writer and mother. Some of her son’s stories are better than hers.

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