Storytelling Ideas and Story Starters

Storytelling can be intimidating, right?  Some parents worry that they won’t know what to talk about, how to craft the story, that it won’t be interesting enough to hold their child’s attention. Let’s face it: in this animated, electronic, mini-series world it can feel like we’re in a tough competition for our kids’ attention.

Sometimes, even if storytelling does come very naturally to us, by the time bedtime rolls around, we’re simply too tired from a day of parenting to come up with something creative and engaging on the spot. I don’t know about you, but I often think of the perfect thing to say after the moment has passed and this happens when I’m put on the spot to tell a story sometimes, too.

So, most parents rely on books, which are totally wonderful and you’ll never catch me being down on reading to your kids. No way!  Full bookshelves, reading the classics and discovering new favorites with your kids is a terrific thing.

However, I think we miss a valuable opportunity for creativity, self-expression, and an opportunity for bonding with our kids if we never branch out into storytelling and make up our own stories to tell our children.

Plus, making up stories is a great excuse for silliness and who doesn’t need more of that in their life?

I know that “tell me a story” can be a phase that parents begin to dread.  But, the truth is, this is one of those areas where I think parents tend to over-think the task. We worry too much about perfection, but no elaborate plots or theater degrees are needed.

Children love simple stories and they love it when we are the ones telling them.

So, today I am going to share some very simple ideas for storytelling and give you a few story starters, too.

fortblankieOnce upon a time there were three little girls who built a fort …

Story Starters

A Familiar Name

Name the main character after your child. Give other characters names of family members, pets, or friends. A recent hit with my son Max was a story about going to the zoo and every animal was named Max:  Max Lion, Max Elephant, Max Monkey, Max Dolphin, etc.

Once upon a time, a bear cub named Max was walking through the forest with his mother …

Personal History

Use a story from your child’s past. 

When you were two years old your very favorite thing to wear was your red sparkly shoes.  One day, you put on your red sparkly shoes and …

A few ideas:

  • Tell the story of how your child got their name
  • Tell them the story of their first birthday
  • Tell them about foods they liked to eat as a baby, toddler

Once upon a time, when you were a baby, you ate a bite of banana for the very first time.  It was so soft and squishy and you didn’t know what to think! You stuck out your tongue and squinched up your eyes and made a zzzzzzrbt sound with your lips!  Daddy and I didn’t know if this meant you loved it or your hated it.

bubbleMaxOnce upon a time there was a boy who blew a bubble …

Your Childhood

Tell stories from your own childhood.  Kids love to hear about when their parents were little! 

Once upon a time, when Mommy was a little girl, she went to the train museum with her Grandpa.  While we were there we saw …

When Daddy was a little boy, his very favorite game to play was …

With a Twist

Tell a favorite familiar story with a twist or combine two of your child’s favorite fairy tales.

Once upon a time, Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother invited the Three Little Pigs to tea …

Repeat Yourself

Kids love repetition. It is comforting and familiar.  Don’t be afraid to use the same characters or the same basic story outline over and over again.  Before long, they will be like old friends.

Our story of the Rainbow Dresses is a favorite my oldest daughter knew by heart as a young child and it often found its way into her artwork and daily play.  It has been woven into the fabric of our family through the telling and re-telling. She tells it to her younger siblings now.

It is a simple story and even though some of the details might change, the basic framework stays the same predictable repetition that my Jillian loved as a young child, “On Mondays, Jillian wore her red dress to the circus …. On Tuesdays, Jillian wore her orange dress to the seashore … On Wednesdays, Jillian wore her yellow dress to ….”

You can repeat the same plot line, too.  Classic stories like The Enormous Turnip are still making kids giggle today, in part because of their repetitive nature:  by the time the Farmer’s son comes along to help the Farmer and his wife pull the enormous turnip from the ground, kids can predict what happens next.

Being able to anticipate what happens next is part of the appeal for young children, so use that repetition in your own stories.  What may seem overly simple to you will probably be a plot point whose familiarity will delight your child.

To Be Continued

Stories don’t have to have a nice tidy ending. Let the story weave itself in installments night after night. Let your child take over and tell parts of it, too. 

Ask your child, “What do you think happened next?” and let them give you the ending … or is it just the beginning of another adventure?

In Your Home

Hopefully at least one of these story starters appeals to you and can be something that you can rely on the next time your child puts you on the spot with the phrase “tell me a story” – maybe even at bedtime tonight?

Do your kids have a favorite story that you tell? What are some of your tips for storytelling?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. I’ve done this with my kids a few times, but used to do it CONSTANTLY with my old college roommate! She’d give me 5 words and I’d weave them into a quirky tale. It’s great fun!
    Annie´s latest post: How Do You Do It Prayer

  2. Wonderful ideas for storytelling! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Loved the vlog too!
    Pam´s latest post: We Should Be Packing…

  3. What a fantastic vlog, and post Kara! I’m usually do brain dead when I’m putting the boys down that coming up with a story sometimes seems like an impossible task.

    Thanks for some keys and a formula to help me out.

    You’re so adorable and relaxed! Great job, really.
    Aimee @ Simple Bites´s latest post: Thanksgiving Leftovers- What to do with all the Turkey

  4. MamaShift says:

    Awww, your voice is very calming and sweet. You did very well.

    I love these ideas.

  5. Can I say- I WANT that wooden doll???? So sweet- do you remember where you got it?
    priest’s wife´s latest post: Wordless Wednesday- Smile!

  6. Thanks for the list of ideas!

    My kids love to hear stories of when Mommy was a little girl and when Daddy was a little boy. I started doing this when my oldest was a toddler we all enjoy the stories!

    One of the first, and probably our favorite, is the story of the watermelon seed I planted. I riffed off of Crockett Johnson’s The Carrot Seed for the format, but the actual events really did happen (though I came away with a large watermelon instead of a giant carrot).

  7. This vlog? MADE MY DAY! I truly felt like I’ve met you face-to-face an you every bit as gentle and kind and inspiring as I’ve always imagined you to be. LOVE IT, Kara! Love, love, love.

    The girls and I make up stories together a LOT but these are some wonderfully fresh ideas for future storytelling times.

    (Seriously. You made my day.)
    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s latest post: You Tell Me- Relief for TMJ Pain

  8. Would you just look at this lovely post packed with ideas!!! Fantastic!!!
    se7en´s latest post: The Week That Was – 314

  9. Oh Kara,

    You know I LOVE this post! There are some great ideas that I haven’t heard of. I’m at the airport so I’ll have to wait to hear the vlog but kudos to you for attempting it!

    I definitely want to share this on my facebook and twitter. Sometimes when I’m too tired to read to my daughter we turn off the light and lay down and I tell her a story but I need to do this more often than I do.
    Janna @ Mommy’s Piggy TALES – Record YOUR Youth´s latest post: Blogworld Bound

    • Janna, that is so kind of you to say! Thank you for sharing this :-)

      I find that what seems to come naturally for some parents can be a real struggle for others and storytelling is something that falls into that category, i believe.

      Glad that I could give you some fresh ideas and I agree, at the end of the day it isn’t always easy to be creative and come up with stories off the cuff.

  10. My daughter is always trying to get me to come up with new songs so I’ve started singing my own versions of popular fairy tales like the Three little Pigs and Goldilocks. She gets her bedtime stories and songs all in one shot.
    Lisa´s latest post: How Green is Your Dining Table

  11. Thank you Thank you Thank you. My daughters summertime Kids Day Out teacher used to tell Magic Milk stories and she LOVED THEM. She is always asking me to tell her a Magic Milk story and I was too intimidated. Now I may not tell Magic Milk, but one of my own making. Thank you for taking the mystery out of storytelling!

    And the vlog was awesome!

    • You are very welcome!

      And, I meant what I said in the vlog: if a really shy person like me can vlog, then you can tell a story to your kids. It can be intimidating, but I bet once you find your our version of the Magic Milk stories, you’ll be weaving together words with your daughter and making wonderful memories together, too :-)

      thanks for your kind words!

  12. This is great! Since I started telling my childhood stories, my son never ceases to ask for more until I run out of story ideas (I can remember only so many)! You are right to say that it is okay to repeat as my son doesn’t mind me doing it. I have stopped telling stories to my kids for a while. Your article reminds me that I should continue and gives me more ideas on story telling. Thanks, Kara.
    Abel´s latest post: Halloween Costumes on a Budget

  13. Great job on the video log.
    I don’t storytell as much as I could but I love to tell stories from my childhood or of my children when they were younger. I often use photos as prompts.
    Catherine´s latest post: We play – with pegs

  14. Wonderful vlog, Kara! Love it! :) You did a great job. I imagine that listening to you tell a story must be very calming and magical for your children. These are great ideas – my daughter is always asking me to tell her stories, especially when we’re in the car. I will keep all these suggestions in mind from now on. Thanks so much!

  15. I totally freeze up when my kids ask me for a story — even my childhood seems suddenly bland — but one thing that I sometimes do is the kind of twist you mentioned. “The Three Little Sea Otters and the Big Bad Shark,” for example. Just pick a classic story and stick it in an entirely different setting.

    In the car, our family sometimes has fun with “Fortunately/Unfortunately” tag-teaming stories.
    Hannah´s latest post: Are You Busy

  16. Great vlog, and ideas, Kara! I love the idea with all the characters having your kid’s name. I think my daughter would get a kick out of that. :)
    Nicole aka Gidget´s latest post: gratitude His Word in My Heart- October 2010

    • Thanks, Nicole!

      Yes, my four year old especially loves whenever every character has his name.
      Max octopus, Max fish, Max lobster, Max King of the Mermaids, Max shark …. :-)

  17. Thanks for nice share


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