From Listener to Storyteller (Z Turns Three!)

z is threeWhen most toddlers have been asleep for hours, my youngest daughter insists, “I’m not tired. See, my eyes are open. Can you tell me a story?” If it’s a typical night in our household, we’ve already read a couple of books at bedtime. I won’t grab another one from the shelf. Instead, in an effort to keep the lights turned off, I resort to giving her the next installment of The Adventures of Little Z in Room 3, a set of stories I make up on the spot.

The cast of characters is always the same–a fictional version of my daughter, Z., her best friends, Chloe and Theo, a new friend, Frederica (“Freddy”), and her rival, Olive (“Ollie”)–while the challenge they face is different in each story.* The favorite hangout spot in their daycare classroom is an elaborate wooden train set, which becomes a source of discord when Ollie grabs Thomas the Tank Engine right out of Z.’s hands. There are only four trains–Thomas, Percy, Rosie, and Edward–and all five children want to play with them. No one wants to be Sir Topham Hatt (“He’s not a train!”).

Meatballs 5On another day at school (a fictional one), Ollie wears a winter hat with black pom poms on it that reminds Z. of a very similar hat she has at home. Thinking it is her hat, Z. chases Ollie into the cubby room, yelling, “Give me my meatballs!”

In the stories that feature a conflict between Z. and Ollie, the girls have to work through it. They learn to share, or they find other ways of restoring the peace in Room 3.

Interestingly, my daughter sees Ollie as a worthy adversary for the fictional Z., and she enjoys hearing about all the fun the two have once they have resolved their disagreement. When we discussed the possibility of Ollie moving away, the real-life Z. insisted that Ollie stay. For now, new children may enter room 3, but they are not allowed to leave!

When the story is done for the night, Z. often treats me to one of her own.** It’s usually a ghost story, full of good advice like, “Don’t pet any ghosts.” Over the last year, going from 24 to 36 months old, Z. has transformed from someone who just listened to stories, sometimes adding a detail here and there, to someone who actually tells them.

In honor of her third birthday, which is today, I’m sharing one of her early stories from a few months ago (the only one we’ve managed to record so far). She told us this story while we were hanging out in one of the conference rooms at my husband’s office.

For those who watch it: Whatever you do, don’t laugh at the end. My daughter won’t like it if you do. 😉

*Z.’s real-life best friend is named Chloe, and Theo is the name of a real child in her class, which is actually Room 3. Freddy and Ollie are entirely fictional. The conflict is never between Z. and Chloe/Theo.

**None of this helps Z. fall asleep, but she’s a night owl like her parents. There’s no use in fighting it.


  1. I just love it when they’re old enough to start putting stories together–logical or not. My youngest sister is 7 now and every time I call my family she has stories about her week to tell me!

    1. Thank you! She had a lovely birthday, which she has gotten to celebrate on multiple days (her actual birthday at our house in PA, at her grandparents’ house in MS, at school, and finally at her birthday party). I’m almost surprised she hasn’t started telling people she’s turning 6!

    1. That’s one of the reasons I’m keeping this blog. It helps me remember. I’m also writing down some of the stories to keep for my girls. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thank you! It’s tough being a night owl in our society, isn’t it? 9-5 just doesn’t work well for us. I hope the workplace is much more flexible (in many ways) by the time my daughters are adults.

  2. Brilliant! I’d love to be able to just make up stories off the cuff, and Z is picking up the talent at an early age. I worry just a bit though. I know a couple of (unrelated) adults who go around fantasising about their lives – they make up their own reality for reasons that are beyond me. (I guess they are both pretty unfulfilled people without defined careers or lifestyles). It’s cool and great to be creative as long as a child recognises the difference between reality and make-believe at some stage 🙂

    1. Ha! I worried a bit about putting a fictional version of Z in the Room 3 stories because I didn’t want any of the conflicts between Z and Ollie to spill over into her actual classroom. Z’s the one who put herself in the story and added her real life friends, Chloe and Theo. It makes the story much more interesting for her. We’ve talk about the difference between reality and fiction, but she doesn’t quite get it yet. To reduce any problems that might happen from her inability at this time to grasp the difference, I make sure that the conflict is never between Z and Chloe/Theo. The conflict is usually a mild disagreement and never between Z and the characters who don’t have a counterpart in real life (Ollie and Freddy) (or the plot focuses on some other issue that doesn’t involve a disagreement among the children). So far, she really enjoys the stories and it hasn’t caused any problems. I actually think it has improved her behavior at school because it gives her an opportunity to think through the kinds of conflicts that are common at her age.

  3. Happy birthday, Z.! Three already!

    How precious! I was thinking just last night that I need to record one of my daughter’s story telling sessions. I confess I have following my daughter’s stories sometimes as they go in so many different directions, but I love to see her imagination grow.

    I do something similar as you do with Z., in that I have made up stories about my daughter and her cats (and our dog when he was alive). She has her favorites and fortunately my memory hasn’t failed me and I remember most of the details. I like the idea of setting the stories in your daughter’s class and including her friends. I may have to borrow that idea in the future.

    1. Isn’t the transition from two to three just magical? It’s such an imaginative time. Plus, their ability to communicate all of the wonderful things going on in their heads improves almost every day. My daughter really loves the stories that feature her classmates, and I love coming up with them. My hope is that it helps her think through some of the ways she can respond to real-life conflicts in her class. I am careful about making sure that the two fictional classmates with real-life equivalents are never the cause of the conflict (Ollie and Freddy aren’t real children, while Chloe and Theo are). I wouldn’t want any of the conflicts in our stories to spill over into her real-life classroom! She doesn’t have a firm grasp on the dividing line between real-life and fiction yet.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thanks, Donna! She loves her “meatballs”! Ha! Her stories now are more complex than they were a few months ago, but she still tells them in a high-energy manner. They always make me smile. 🙂

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