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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 16:48 GMT
What makes a good story?

Bedtime stories could soon be a thing of the past because parents lack the time and the inspiration. BBC News Online offers some suggestions on how to get the sweethearts off to sleep.

The tradition of parents reading their children a bedtime story could be entering the final chapter.

According to new research, more than half of all parents say they do not have enough time to read or tell bedtime stories to their children every night.

Girl reading
Things ain't what they used to be
The figures show a sharp drop since the mid-1970s. Only 16% of children are read to every night, compared with more than a third of their parents' generation.

In many households children fill the gap between supper and lights out with watching television or playing video games, often on their own. About half of all children have a television in their bedroom, including about 25% of under fours.

The decline in storytelling is storing up trouble for the future says psychologist and author Aric Sigman, who believes a book at bedtime fosters emotional security and helps children to calm down.

An ancient art

It also acts as an important means of transmitting shared values from one generation to the next, says Dr Sigman.

The findings substantiate concerns that we will one day forget the ancient art of storytelling.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Perennial children's favourite - The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Earlier this year, libraries in South Gloucestershire set out to tackle the issue by running a series of workshops aimed at helping adults rediscover the secret of a good yarn.

Professional storyteller Inez Aponte, who led the sessions, says many of us feel unable to come up with a tale worth telling.

So, for parents suffering from a lack of inspiration, BBC News Online offers some suggestions, with the help of Tina Bilbé, from the Society for Storytelling.

1) Anecdotes are stories as well

For those who struggle to think of a good subject, look no further than what you did during the day.

Tony Blair and Leo
"Fancy hearing one of my office anecdotes?"
"We do all tell stories but they tend to be in the form of anecdotes that you relate to friends at the end of the day or to your partner when the kids have gone to bed."

2) Make it relevant

Of course, you have to do a bit of work to tailor the anecdote for different audiences.

"You can tell the same story to two different people in two different ways. If you're telling it to a child you might say: 'You know, adults can be as childish as kids. Let me tell you what happened today ...'."

3) What are they interested in?

More storytelling tips
Choose a simple story you like
Read it or have it read aloud to you
Try telling the basic story, even just to the cat
Try to visualise the story, rather than learn it by heart
Add details and descriptions you think fit your story
Unfortunately, children will not always be riveted by the ebb and flow of office politics. And what held their attention last week, may not interest them any longer.

"Children will be fascinated by different things at different times of their life. You have to key into what they are into at what point."

4) TV is not always the enemy

Television can be used as an inspiration for good storytelling.

"It may be that parents feel they can't muster the same quality of story that TV or videos offer. But you can take characters or situations from the TV and develop them in your mind."

"There are some things that TV can't convey, like smell. So this is something you could bring out more in a story."

5) Make sure you enjoy it too

Child watching TV
TV can be a useful base for developing a story
You will know when your child enjoys a story because they will probably ask you to recite it again and again and again. So it makes sense you chose stories you like to as well.

Judging by the latest research, that is not always the case. Many fathers confessed to falling asleep next to their child while reading.

6) Other things to bear in mind

Ms Bilbé says parents should get into a routine, setting aside half-an-hour every evening and getting together all the children.

"Even if they have separate bedrooms there's no reason why you cannot tuck up on the sofa and then afterwards say 'now, off to bed'."

And what is the perfect bedtime read? Her favourite is Frank Muir's tale of a hapless Afghan hound, What-a-Mess.

"There's a very simple story, but a lot happening in the background. It works in line with the slightly warped logic of children - the same appeal as you get with Rugrats."

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See also:

02 Nov 00 | Education
Bedtime story 'under threat'
23 Mar 00 | UK
A story in the telling...
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