Campfire Stories

Laura Stallard Petza
October 27, 2016

Cooler weather is finally here, and the time is right for campouts, both at home and out in the woods and the wilds. And what, besides s'mores and campfires, makes for picture-perfect camping?  Why, a scary (but not too scary) story, of course . . . one that's just right for your outdoor-loving, preschool-aged camper.

Listen, I'm going to tell you the truth:  I don't know a lot of spooky stories. I vaguely remember one about a lumberjack-zombie who emerges from the woods with a head and a chainsaw, but I'm pretty sketchy on the details, and anyway, I don't think that's the kind of story you want to share with your preschooler.  What I do know, though, is where to find some kid-friendly, spooky-ish stories, and the first place that I'm going to direct you is to Hutchinson's The Spooky Storybook. A thoroughly excellent collection of silly, sort-of-scary stories, The Spooky Storybook is one of the best ghost tale anthologies for younger children. It's out-of-print, so you may not be able to pick it up at just any neighborhood book shop, but don't be discouraged because I found our copy quite easily at a thrift store.  Amazon has a bunch of them, available from a wide variety of sellers (and at a wide variety of prices), and you can always check in at your favorite used book shop.  However you find it, find it, as the stories here -- including one about a pirate who takes over a double-decker bus and another about a magical, aunt-eating toilet -- are perfect for sharing around the campfire.  Another pretty good collection of young children's stories is Simon J.Bronner's American Children's FolkloreIn this book you'll find rhymes, jokes, secret languages and camp legends, all of which will go nicely with those marshmallows and hot dogs.

Got a spooky story that you'd like to share? Fantastic! But first, here are a few storytelling basics that you might want to remember before clearing your throat and illuminating your face with the flashlight. Ready?

1.  Choose a story that won't give your child nightmares for months to come
This seems obvious, but it's easy to overlook, particularly if your child seems into the story as you're telling it, that you might be overdoing it and that there might be repercussions.

2.  Choose funny over scary
Go for a story with a joke ending. Both of the books I've mentioned above are chock-full of tales that fit this description.

3.  Suggest that your child sit with a buddy
Snuggling up with another child or with a grown-up can help your child to feel more at ease about storytime 'round the campfire. 

4.  Get the audience involved
Try to incorporate hand gestures or repetitive phrases that your child can imitate if she likes.

5.  Reassure your audience
If your child seems frightened or uneasy, remind him that the story is make-believe (also--don't forget--refer to number one!), or consider trying another story.

6.  Build suspense and add to the realism
Add sound effects, change your voice to reflect different characters, and pause right before the punchline.

7.  Pass the flashlight
When you're finished telling your campfire story, encourage the little ones to weave some yarns of their own.

We'd love to hear some of your favorite campfire stories.  What will you be telling at your next campout? 

From the Parents

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