Night-Night: Settle-Down Activities for Easy Bedtimesby Cynthia MacGregor, June Rifkin
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Ease your child to sleep without tantrums, whining, or endless requests. Night-Night presents a fun assortment of creative solutions for getting kids to settle down at night. Storytime activities, quiet games, and playful songs and rhymes will soothe your child into sleepiness, encouraging them to think calm and happy thoughts. Doing activities together fosters a closer bond between you and your child, encourages creativity, and allows you to spend some time together in a unique way. Most importantly, it makes bedtime special and pleasant so you can all get to sleep.
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Settle-Down Activities for Easy Bedtimes
By Cynthia MacGregor
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2001 Cynthia MacGregor
All rights reserved.
Sleepy time Stories
Telling a child a bedtime story is a wonderful tradition. But the story doesn't have to be an old childhood favorite. There's nothing wrong with The Three Little Pigs, Charlotte's Web, Robin Hood, or Aladdin ... to name just a few. But commercial books don't contain the only stories in the world.
The [your family name]s' Own Special Stories
Make up stories to tell your child—stories that no other child gets to hear when she's put to bed at night (and doesn't that make your child feel special?). When I was, oh, maybe ten or eleven, my parents took me to the home of some friends of theirs for dinner. These friends had four children, two of whom were appreciably younger than I was. Their bedtime came while we were still there visiting.
I don't remember how I came to be in the two boys' room when their father was tucking them in; I only remember that, after he had each boy settled into bed, the dad began spinning a tale that he had made up—one I suspect he was making up right then as he went along. It featured (as did many of his stories, as I later learned), a dashing pilot named Harry Heli d'Copter. And, as I also learned, this father appropriated tuck-in time every night—it was always he, not the mom, who saw the boys to bed—and he always told the boys a story of his own invention. Not all the stories featured Harry Heli d'Copter, but all the stories were "Howard Originals."
You can do the same. Of course you don't have to tell an original story every night. You can make it a special treat for Sundays, or just whenever inspiration strikes you, and you can tell stories about anyone you want—I'm certainly not suggesting they have to be about a dashing pilot named Harry Heli d'Copter.
* You can tell stories involving adventurers such as Howard's pilot character, Harry. (Just don't make the stories so exciting that your child gets too keyed up while listening. Remember, your goal is to relax her.) Besides pilots and police, other popular heroes of adventure stories include firefighters, members of the armed forces, and cowboys and cowgirls. (Of course there's no reason your adventure's hero can't be an Everyman, Everywoman, or Everykid who gets caught up in a grand adventure just by happening to be in the right place at the right time.)
* You can tell stories about animals. Anthropomorphic (having human characteristics) animals have traditionally been a staple of children's stories. And for a child who's facing the first day of kindergarten, a trip to the dentist, or some other potentially scary event, a story about Rudy Rabbit, Harriet Hen, Bert the Bunny, or Betty the Beagle, who has a good visit at the dentist's or a fun time on his first day at school, can be very reassuring.
Of course there are books on such subjects already on the market, but by making up the story yourself, you can tailor it to your child's specific needs, fears, and enjoyments. The animal character can have the same name as your child, or the dentist can have the same name as your child's dentist. The animal can express a specific fear your child holds, and the story can deal with that fear. Or, if your child loves playing with clay, you can have Bert the Bunny discovering that one of the things the kindergarten class does on the first day is play with clay!
Not only will your child enjoy these stories, and not only will he derive a specific benefit from them—reassurance about situations he's facing in his life—but if the story reassures him and relaxes him, he's more likely to be able to go to sleep.
Of course, if you think she's put the trip to the dentist out of her mind for now, that's not the time to remind her by telling a dentist story!
But I don't want you to think that animal stories should deal only with scary or difficult situations. Stories about bunnies going on picnics, goats who have adventures, ducks who want to grow up to be sheep, or horses who wish they had stripes like zebras are always welcome.
The story can have a moral, along the lines of Aesop's fables, though that certainly isn't necessary. A satisfying ending is good enough.
* You can make up stories about kids. These kids can have believable adventures or fantastic adventures. And, again, the stories can teach a lesson or have a "moral," or they can simply be good, engrossing yarns. They can be about Karen, the seven-year-old detective; or Charley, who befriends the new kid in class when everyone else stays away from him; or Kim, who is the new kid in class. They can be about Rob, who stows away on a rocket to the moon; Melissa, whose fairy godmother gives her a magic stone that makes her invisible when she rubs it; or Joan, who gets to be queen of the world for a day.
The story will be extra-special because you made it up—and you made it up just for your child.
* You can make up stories about your child. "Kathy Rescues the Princess." "Evan and the Magic Unicorn." (What child doesn't glory in being the star of a story?!) Now the story is not only being made up especially for her, but it's about her.
* You can tell stories about people with super-powers, always a popular theme. The person—adult or child—may have the ability to fly, to make herself invisible, to climb up walls, to jump twenty feet straight up, to jump a block's distance at a time, to hear something that's miles away, to see through walls, or any of the other conventional super-powers. Or you can invent some new superpowers: Maybe he has the ability to project his thoughts in picture form onto a TV screen, or maybe his eyes can send out freezing rays that will instantly turn milk and syrup into ice cream! Maybe she can freeze people, so that bad guys trying to get away from her are turned instantly to ice or concrete. (What new super-powers can you think up?)
You can even ask your child what superpowers he would like the hero or heroine of your story to have.
And, of course, if your child enjoys the first story, you can make up a whole string of adventures starring the same super-power-possessing hero. Just as my parents' friend Howard told his boys many adventures starring Harry Heli d'Copter, you too can have a recurring character who populates many of your stories.
* You can tell stories about existing popular characters:
"The New Adventures of Robin Hood"
"The Seven Dwarfs Find a New Friend"
"An Eighth Dwarf Joins the Group"
"Santa's New Reindeer"
"The Night Rudolph's Nose Stopped Glowing"
"The Three Little Pigs and the Wolf's Hungry Cousin"
"The Tooth Fairy's Bad Night"
You can even play mix 'n' match with characters:
"Snow White Meets Hansel and Gretel"
"Rapunzel Climbs Jack's Beanstalk"
"Santa Claus Visits the Land of Oz"
In short, you can make up stories on almost any subject. Your only limits are your own imagination and your child's level of comprehension.
Turnabout Is Fair Play
Have the child tell you a story! Now, there's a switch ... but it's a fun one. Little kids will probably just retell an old familiar favorite, "Sleeping Beauty" or "Red Riding Hood" or "Cinderella." But as they get older, kids' imaginations become better equipped to construct stories, and with a little encouragement, your Sean can be spinning tales with the best of them.
Again, as I said about stories you make up, he can always make up a new adventure for an old familiar character, whether it's Winnie the Pooh or Peter Rabbit or the Ugly Duckling. (Kids a little older may pick comic book characters as the heroes of their stories.) But after he gets comfortable with making up stories about familiar characters, encourage him to make up totally original stories if he can. Why not foster his creativity while you're settling him in for the night?
And if he finds a character he likes, encourage him to tell more stories on other nights about that boy, that super-powered woman, that lonely skunk, or that apprentice witch.
Tune in Tomorrow, for the Next Exciting Episode!
Unless you're a whiz at storytelling, this one will probably require a little advance planning, but it's worth the effort. You can tell your child a serial story, one that has a new installment every night. To do this, you don't just make up a story; you make up one that continues in nightly installments.
This isn't all that different from reading a book to your child, one chapter each night, but ideally, you'll leave off each night's installment in a "cliffhanger" place in the story. Now your child will have an extra reason for being willing to go to bed—the sooner he lets you tuck him in, the sooner he can hear what happened next to Jimmy (or Joanne, or Professor Heimelweiner, or Denny the Dragon).
Last night, Jimmy had just found those huge foot prints. Oh boy! He thought for sure the footprints had to have been made by a dinosaur! Was he really about to find a real live dinosaur in the forest? Or would it turn out that something else had left those giant imprints in the forest floor ... and if so, what? What else could have made foot prints that huge?
If your child wants to find out, she'd better get in bed quickly. There won't be any story till her teeth are brushed, her pajamas are on, she's gone to the bathroom, and whatever else she needs to do is done.
Of course, if you can't make up stories yourself, you can always serialize a long story from a book, but it's so much yourself ... and your child can't cheat and ask a friend, during the day, if he knows how the story ends.
Tell a Tall Tale
Tall tales are stories that you know could never really have happened but are told as if they are true. If your child has read or heard any of the legends of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, or Pecos Bill, he knows what a tall tale is.
Kids love making up tall tales, and especially when the kids themselves are the heroes of the tales. Why not let your child tell tall tales about himself some nights at bedtime? Whether the story concerns a trip to Mars on a rocket, or chopping down a tree with a kitchen knife, rescuing her best friend from a monster and being declared an Official Hero, or sailing across the country on a cloud, she can let his imagination soar ... and tell lies with impunity.
Telling tall tales is tall fun!
The Chains That Bind
Engage in a "chain story" with your child. He tells a little bit of the story and then stops. Now it's your turn. You tell some more of the story, but stop before you get carried away and tell the whole thing. Now it's his turn again.
If you're putting two kids to bed in the same room at the same time, all three of you can take turns with the story. You tell a little, then turn the story over to Danny, who tells a little more and turns the story over to Ron. When Ron has told part of the story, it's your turn again, and so on.
It's best when you can stop your segment just at a "cliffhanger part" of the story. "Sharon turned the corner, and she was amazed at what she saw!" And then tell your child, "Okay, it's your turn to tell the story. What did Sharon see?" Or, "The door to the room swung shut, and Heather realized she was trapped inside. How was she going to get out? Then she realized a way she could do it.... Okay, it's your turn. How did Heather get out?"
The story is over when it comes to a logical conclusion, when the child loses interest, or when he falls asleep.
Alpha Bet They'll Love This One!
Similar to chain stories are alphabet stories. These, too, involve each player adding to the story in turn, in this case one sentence at a time, but here you're bound by the letters of the alphabet—if the first player's sentence starts with L, the second player's sentence must start with M, and then, as the game comes back to the first player, she must offer a sentence that begins with N.
Of course, if you're putting two kids to bed at one time, and there are three players, you, Brian, and Seth, and you lead off with a sentence beginning with L, Brian's sentence would start with M, Seth's would start with N, and then it's back to you for O.
* You can start the game with a sentence beginning with any letter. It doesn't have to begin with A.
* You may decide in advance to omit any of the problematic letters—such as X, most likely, and perhaps Q and/or Z.
* After the sentence beginning with Z (or, if you've decided to omit Z, then after the sentence beginning with Y), circle around to A.
* The game is over when you get back to the letter you started with (unless the child falls asleep before that, of course!).
* There is no winner or loser—the game is not competitive.
* Silly sentences are welcome. For a story beginning with L, you might start, "Llamas with purple polka dots were marching at the head of the parade down Main Street."
* Because you don't have to start with A every time you play, your child is less likely to fall into a rut by telling a similar-themed story every time. (And, of course, you can lead off the story, gently guiding her into a different scenario.)
* It's a game, not an attempt to win the Nobel Prize for literature, so if the story wanders, changes focus, or has some other literary flaw, don't worry about it.
* Obviously, this is a game for kids who know their alphabet and can spell well enough to know what letter a word starts with.
Tell Me a Mommy Story"
Tell your child a true story from your childhood. Kids love hearing that mommies and daddies were once little kids themselves. It's a fascinating concept. In a little child's mind, Mommy was always a mommy, or at least a grown woman, and Daddy was always a daddy, or at least a grown man. And even after kids finally grasp the concept that Mommy and Daddy were once little kids themselves, there's still a whole other concept to grasp: that the world was different then, that many of the things your child takes for granted didn't exist, or were different, back then.
Maybe you didn't have a computer, or maybe you had a computer but no e-mail. You probably played some of the same games your child plays, when you were her age—Hide 'n' Seek, or Tag, You're It!—but you probably played different ones too.
Talk about your childhood, and the ways in which the world was different then, especially for a kid. (You know that kids enjoy best hearing what they can relate to themselves.) Talk about the things that were the same, too, but may be things your child never thought of your ever having done. Did you have to go to the doctor for shots? Did you cry? Did you have a best friend? Were you the reigning jump rope champ on your block, or the marbles king? Did you have the biggest comic book collection of all your friends? Or the strictest parents? Or the funniest uncle? Or a grandma who baked the best cookies? Did you have a mean older brother, who picked on you, or a little sister whom you helped take care of? Did you and your sister fight over who got to lick the bowl when your mom baked cookies? Did you get into trouble for sneaking cookies you weren't supposed to have?
Tell about your first day in school. Tell how you spent your summers. Tell about your best friend and the things you liked to do together. Tell about your pets. Tell about your first two-wheeler ... or even your first tricycle, if you remember that far back. Tell your child the ways in which your childhood was like hers ... and the ways in which it was different.
Did you live in a house or an apartment? Or maybe you lived in someplace different—a trailer or military housing, for instance. Perhaps a farmhouse. What was the best thing about the house you grew up in? What was the worst? Did you have to share your room with a brother or sister?
Who was your favorite neighbor? Who did you like the least of all the people you knew? Why? Who was your favorite teacher? Why? What was your best subject in school? What were your favorite toys? How did you celebrate your birthdays? What were your parties like?
There are many stories you can tell about your childhood, and they don't have to be adventures. They can just be simple, quiet reminiscences. Your child will enjoy hearing them ... and you'll probably enjoy telling them, as well.
Tell Me about Me!"
While you're telling stories of childhoods past, tell your child about her own younger years. "When you were really little" is a popular topic for kids. For a nine-year-old, stories of when she was four or five may recall events she's forgotten, or tell her things she simply doesn't remember at all. For a three-year-old, "when you were really little" pretty much means "when you were a baby" or a toddler. But little kids love hearing stories about themselves. The story of how and where she took her first step, or a description of her first birthday may fascinate her no matter how many times she hears it. Kids old enough to understand the birth process love to hear about the day or night they were born.
Excerpted from Night-Night by Cynthia MacGregor. Copyright © 2001 Cynthia MacGregor. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Cynthia MacGregor is the author of several books for parents and children, including Raising a Creative Child and 365 After-School Activities. She resides in Lantana, Florida. E-mail Cynthia at: CynthiaMacgregor@aol.com
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