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Bedtime stories are part of the routines in many households. Most of the time, parents are the ones reading stories to their children, but learning how to tell a story is also a part of every child’s language development. Just as their vocabulary evolves, so do their abilities to tell a story. Here are some examples of what to expect at different ages:

Age 2-3, the “heap” story: This is literally a little pile of events and descriptions. They do not necessarily have a theme.

“He goed to the park with mom. There a slide. A dog runs. The boy is happy. The boy has ice cream. The dog jumps. He eats the ice cream. The boy is sad. The mom is happy.”

Age 3-4, the sequence story: This is a sequence of events and descriptions that follows a central theme.

“A boy and mom were at the park. He played on the slide. Then he saw a dog running. Then he got an ice cream. And then he played with the dog. And then the dog ate all the ice cream. The boy went to his mom. The mom was happy.”

Age 4- 4½, the primitive story: These stories are starting to resemble a more adult-like story. They have a central theme (for example, a person, object or event) and a more developed plot, but often no real conclusion to the story.

“There was a boy at the park. He was playing on the slide then he wanted to go play with a dog. He got an ice cream cone and went to play with the dog. The dog jumped up and ate the ice cream. He was sad and his mom was happy.”

Age 4½ – 5, the chain story: As more adult-like stories develop, children include more elements that make a story more exciting. The plot gets stronger but is not necessarily complete.

“There was a boy and his mom at the park. The boy wanted a dog but his mom said he can’t have one. The boy was playing on a slide and then he saw a dog so he wanted to go play with it. First he got an ice cream cone then went to play with the dog. When he went to the dog, the dog saw his ice cream and jumped and it. The boy was upset and didn’t like the dog anymore and the mom was happy.”

Age 5-7, the real story: This is the stage where children’s stories start to sounds like complete stories. They have a central theme, more character details and a plot. They include more on what motivates characters and why they react a certain way.

“Once a boy and his mom were going to the park. The boy really wanted a dog and kept asking his mom but his mom said he couldn’t have one. While they were at the park, the boy was playing on the slide and he spotted a dog. He went and bought an ice cream cone and then went over to play with the dog. The dog saw his ice cream cone and jumped up and ate it. The boy was really sad because he wanted to eat his ice cream cone and was mad that the dog took it. His mom was happy because she knew the boy didn’t want a dog anymore.”

So next time you read a good night story, reverse roles and ask your child to tell you the story. You never know what they will come up with and this is an important part of language development!

Jana Zalmanowitz, Speech-Language Pathologist,

The Speech Therapy Centres of Canada Ltd.