“The good and kindly prince rode over the dune and was lost from sight. That was just the beginning of his quest to solve the riddle of the golden owl.” Sound a little spooky? Hope so! That was how I ended the third installment of a bedtime story I’m telling my tween this winter.

I’d been longing for tuck-in sessions that seemed to have dropped off our bedtime routine. With after school activities, homework, team sports and dinner to check off our nightly to do list, our family’s bedtime routine had suffered.

Just a short year ago, I would lay down nightly with my son to recap the day, share a laugh and talk about what we were both looking forward to in the next day and beyond. A few months ago, I realized I was feeling disconnected emotionally from him as I seemed to be focusing so much on getting things done in our family life.

It’s not lost on me that as a working mom with elementary school kids, our quality family time is the few hours after work and school and before the Sandman arrives. These precious few hours had been diluted into routine that needed a little more inspiration.

I can’t remember who cried uncle first, but one night this fall I found myself in a most familiar, if not entirely comfortable, space on a sliver of my son’s twin bed. Our chat had covered the day’s events, which would have been enough for me. Then my little boy asked for a story.

My husband and I have read to our kids nearly every night for as long as we can remember. Though they still enjoy being read to our son and daughter’s reading needs have tapered as their own reading skills have developed.

We still laugh as a family about how many times we have all read the book HUG by Jez Alborough, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and let’s not forget every one of Mo Willems’ treasures, among many others.

His was a cry to connect and be entertained. I’d posit that’s what we’re all looking for in art and artistry. And I was up for the challenge.

I paused to brainstorm a setting. Then I needed a protagonist and admittedly phoned it in with my good and kindly prince. I took my time and a few minutes later had enough in my quiver to pull the first bit of a tale together.

Once I had a few pieces laid out, it was easy to fill in details from my own imagination and from there, I took my cues from my audience too!

As our story has progressed over the months, I’ve jotted down notes in my bedside journal to make sure I remember where we were in the story. Sadly, we both forget now and then as our epic tale is not a nightly affair. Remember the homework, hoops practice and other demands? But, we travel more than a few nights a week to a wonderful world that we have created together.

And while I’m the one telling the story, he helps guide me as my inspiration. Depending on my son’s reaction to story details, I’ll head one way or another. It’s an organic ‘choose your own adventure’ and I love being open to telling this story on the fly.

As I’m telling our story, there’s no right or wrong, no good or bad except for the evil-doers, of course, just us traveling slowly on a journey whose end is uncertain. Thankfully, we seem to have already arrived…together.

Here’s how you can begin your own epic tale with your tween.

Build a framework. Select any of the following to boost your imagination and inspiration: time-period, location, protagonist (Female? Male?), etc. (Our epic tale involves a prince who is sent on a three-year journey to solve a riddle with the help of his ancient navigator.)

What he doesn’t know is that his little sister has stowed away within the caravan and will be critical to the party’s success. It’s no coincidence that our tale echoes our family’s make up of big brother and little sister. Embrace what you know and love!

Base your story on something that interests your tween right now. It’s perfectly fine to create a contemporary tale that mirrors her/his own world view. It might even help guide conversations about what’s happening socially and emotionally.

Keep it tight. Don’t try to tell too much in one story telling session. If you get excited about one thread, by all means go with it, but it’s nice to capture that excitement the following session so take a note and keep your story to 10 to 15 minutes per session.

End your story telling sessions on a high note. It’s fun to pose a question to close your nightly tale. For example, I might ask ‘How do you think our good and kindly prince will discover his sister has joined him on his quest?’

And above all else… have fun!

Featured Photo Courtesy: Annie Spratt



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