Toddlers like simple stories about themselves and the important people in their lives. Susan Engel’s research shows that “elaborated reminiscing” (telling and retelling stories about shared experiences, adding more detail and encouraging the child’s increased participation with each retelling) is an especially powerful tool for building toddlers’ language facility, vocabularies, story-telling skill, and memories — while also strengthening your relationship!
Preschoolers like true and true-to-life stories, and often demand accuracy. They also love fantasy. You can make up a whole cast of characters, give them fun names, and dream up all sorts of adventures, using fanciful language, rich descriptive detail, and appropriate dialog and voices. Use storybooks like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or The Giant Jam Sandwich to inspire tall tales, Flossie and the Fox or The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf to inspire creative retellings of familiar tales, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit or If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to inspire stories about the real and imaginary creatures who inhabit our homes, gardens, and neighborhoods.
Remember: It’s fun for children to listen to stories, but even more fun (and language-building!) when they participate. Encourage them to make suggestions, add sound effects and details, take on roles, ask questions that push you to expand or vary the story, and invent new characters, events, and endings.