Bedtime stories train empathy, expand imagination and the ability to concentrate: all the benefits to keep this beautiful ritual always alive
“Can you read me one more?”. Raise your hand if you have never been a storyteller next to your child’s bed to make him fall asleep. Bedtime stories are a beautiful ritual for bedtime (obviously much more suitable than all those that include smartphones or video screens). We asked Martino Negri, teacher of children’s literature at the Bicocca University of Milan because still in 2020 it is important to read stories to our children.
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The importance of bedtime stories: why read them again in 2020 to children?
«The fairy tales, but more generally the stories, are a very powerful relationship tool, through the voice, between adult and child. I believe that no one better than Daniel Pennac, in “Come un novel”, where he recalls his experience as a father who every evening gave one or more readings to his son, was able to tell it with equally simple, profound and poetic words. That time was “a gift, a moment out of any moment. In spite of everything. The nocturnal story relieved him of the burden of the day. Once moored, he let himself be carried by the wind, infinitely light, and the wind was our voice “».
The benefits of bedtime stories
Are there any “measurable” positive effects of reading bedtime stories that we can find in children? “Besides strengthen the relationship between adult and child, making us feel that being together is a time given and lived in the sign of love, listening to a voice that reads or narrates educates us to listen, to pay attention to the words that are transformed into scenes in the imagination, allowing us to project ourselves far away from the here and now and take on someone else’s shoes, discovering new points of view and educating oneself to empathy. When the “right story” is encountered, this also allows children to recognize themselves in the fears, desires, joys or difficulties experienced by the characters, who can remember their own experiences. Children are happy to return to the stories they love, which tell them – even metaphorically – something about their experience of the world. Only when this function of finding and mirroring ends are they ready to abandon a beloved story, as Rodari also reminds us in his “Grammatica della fantasia”. Reading constantly to children also allows them to gradually dilate attention spans“.
Bedtime stories and bedtime ritual
What relationship do fairy tales have with the ritual of going to sleep?
«The words spoken by an emotionally relevant voice such as that of the mother or father represent a sweet and gradual accompaniment in the uncertain territories of sleep, where one goes alone, facilitating the detachment from the conscience and security of the day. As told by the fabulous “Stories of the night” by Kitty Crowther published by Topipittori.
But if I have to think about the theme of the rituality I can only go back to Pennac who, recalling the loss of “intimacy” resulting from the growth of his son, recalls with a certain bitter nostalgia that lost time that we must fully recognize and appreciate while it exists: “Looking back on this beginning of insomnia, the ritual of reading, every evening, at the foot of his bed, when he was young – fixed hours and unchanging gestures – had something of prayer. That sudden armistice after the din of the day, that meeting beyond any contingency, that moment of collected silence that precedes the first words of the story, our voice finally identical to itself, the liturgy of the episodes … Yes, the the story read every evening fulfilled the most beautiful function of prayer, the most disinterested, the least speculative, and which concerns only men: the forgiveness of offenses. We did not confess any sin, we did not try to conquer any slice of eternity, it was a moment of communion, between us, the absolution of the text, a return to the only paradise that is worthwhile: intimacy. Without knowing it, we discovered one of the essential functions of the story and more generally of art, which is to impose a truce on the struggle of men. Love came out reborn ».
How to choose bedtime stories
What criteria do you use to select them? “The ability that a story has to touch the deep chords of the feeling of a listener (as well as a reader) depends on a number of variables that are difficult to identify and manage, regardless of the age of the children and their stage of psychological evolution . The only advice I can give, leaning on the reflections of Rita Valentino Merletti, is to choose stories that we know well and like, stories that have a meaning for us and that our voice, for this very reason, we know how to transform into experience for those who listen to us “.
How to invent bedtime stories
What if a parent runs out of books and has to come up with a story on the spot?
«I will answer this question more as a father than as a scholar. I think the thing that matters most – just like reading – is the fact of being there, of being together, of living a time full of meaning as a time of relationship. When my children were small, I asked them to give me elements and then I improvised: starting from objects known to children – no matter if they are games or other household utensils – and animating them by taking their perspective, making them have adventures has always worked, regardless of the narrative quality of the inventions.
After all, Andersen, to whom we owe some of the most popular auteur fairy tales to this day, has also often worked in this direction. Throwing familiar objects in unprecedented situations on the other hand it is one of the principles on which Rodarian’s “fantastic binomial” is founded, which is based precisely on the narrative fecundity of a systematic disorientation that starts from the known to lead to the unknown.
The important thing is not to be afraid, to let the images and situations flow by responding to the logic of the story. What matters is to be there and to put yourself at the service of the narrative, without fear of telling a bad story: and above all without the haste to bring it to a conclusion, instead expanding the time of being there, together, in the dimension of …