The [noun] that Dad Told was [adjective]: Mad Lib Storytelling

  by Erik Wolgemuth

As any dadcraftsman who has rolled up his sleeves and plunged deep into the world of storytelling will attest, there’s an art to the task. And as with any art, some artists naturally thrive, others struggle mightily and another dedicated contingent work at it and attain a passing grade. Whichever group you fall into, most youngsters are forgiving and if the storyline doesn’t quite arc quite as gracefully as it ought to, they’re likely to overlook it.

I’ve discovered, however, that there is a way to tell a story with no worries about character development, cohesion and the like, where you’ll find your kids engaged, participating and humored. It’s the dadcraft take on the once (still?) popular Mad Lib stories. Simply:

  • Start by gathering words from your kids…words that fit into certain categories (say, animals, people’s names, actions, etc) and that will be inserted into the daddrafted-on-the-fly-story;
  • Launch into telling the story, starting with one of the kid-submitted nouns and actions;
  • At random moments in your story, include additional words that your kids came up.

While older kids might be able to generate words Mad Lib-style (“Give me two adjectives, a color, and an adverb…”), asking a four-year-old for his whackiest noun or your five-year-old for her favorite action verb is going miss the mark (and widely), but we can adapt with a variety of options for a variety of ages:

Option #1: Using a game of Memory that we have lying around the house, I gathered up the cards and organized them into different groups (“animals,” “foods,” “toys,” “vehicles,” etc.). The cards were placed face down in these groups and whenever it seemed suitable to add an element to the story, I invited my kids to pull one of the cards from the appropriate category and share the new plot development.

Option #2: If Memory isn’t a ready resource around your home but you’re a quickdraw with a pencil, sketch out the ideas your kids come up with on pieces of index paper or Post-It notes that can be randomly selected as you tell the story.

Option #3: If you’ve got readers in the group, here’s a good chance to put their skills to use (It will also save you the effort of searching for Memory [or something similar] and/or humbling yourself with subpar artwork): write out their ideas on those index cards or Post-Its, mix ‘em up, and have them random select and read their inputs as your tale unfolds.

Option #4: No memory, no drawing skills and no readers? Just prompt your kids at the appropriate moment to share a place, person, edible, etc. that then becomes an integral part of the developing story.

Once you’ve selected the appropriate option for you and your brood, tell away! Don’t worry about the absurdity of what’s to come – story fragments, rabbit trails, and ridiculous characters are a given…you’ll get laughs from both the inherent funniness giant goldfish who lived in a tree of marshmallows with his dragon wife as well as your desperate attempts to keep the random story straight!


For the brave dadcraftsman, you can strike on your own tale unaided … except by this guide (it really can work). The key to any story is that you’re engaged with your kids, present and giving them your attention.

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Picture by simpleinsomnia; Used via Creative Commons license.