I still remember the stories my father told me when I was in my single-digits. During long car rides, at dinner, before bed, in the grocery store—my dad would never pass up an opportunity to tell us one of his tales. Here are a few that I remember. These are classics, so perhaps you’ve heard them, too.
These stories are specifically for young sleepers, but I heard these stories throughout my childhood and loved them even as I grew up. You can share them with older children, too.
A Tale for Your Toddler:
This is a story from Aesop’s Fables.
A hungry lion watched three bulls grazing in an open field. He tried to catch the bulls so he could eat them, but every time he attacked, they would charge at him with their big horns. Together, they chased the lion away every time.
Soon, the lion lost hope that he would ever catch them, because one lion is no match for three big bulls with sharp horns and strong hooves. But he lived nearby, and every once in a while, he would watch the bulls and dream of eating them.
One day, the three bulls got into a big argument. They were upset at each other and decided to eat in three different corners of the field—very, very far from each other. The lion saw this and he got excited. He started licking his mouth.
Now, it was easy for him to attack them one at a time. So, the lion sneaked up on each bull and attacked them separately. Because the bulls were so far from each other, none of them could hear their friend cry for help. The lion had a big feast that day.
Engage + moral of the story:
Ask your child what the lesson of the story is and see what they say. After getting their minds working, tell them the moral: There is strength in unity.
When we are together, we are strong; but as soon as we separate, we become easy to attack.
A Piece for Your Preschooler:
*This is just one version of a common story. You can find many adaptations online.
Once, there was a king who had three sons. He was getting older and he wanted to see which of his sons would be loyal enough to take care of his kingdom after he died. So, he decided to test them by asking each of them a simple question:
How much do you love me?”
The eldest prince said that he loved his father more than all the gold in the kingdom. As a reward for his answer, the king gifted his son a part of the kingdom.
Then, the second prince answered. He said that he loved his father more than all the jewels in the kingdom. The King was proud of his two sons for their answers. He decided to give his second son a part of the kingdom as a reward for his answer, too.
Then, the third and last son said:
“Dearest father, I love you more than salt.”
The King was shocked and angry. What did the youngest prince mean by salt?! Salt was so common. It was not like gold or jewels. He felt disrespected, and he banished the youngest prince for his answer.
Pause and engage:
I hope your kiddos are sleepy by now. If they’re looking a little drowsy, skip this part. If they’re wide awake, go ahead and engage with them now to build a connection and get their minds working.
Ask your little one(s): Why do you think the King got so upset that the third prince said he loved him more than salt?
Back to the story:
The banished prince was very sad. His father did not understand how much he really loved him. But, the prince had no choice but to pack up his things, take his horse, and ride away from his kingdom and his home forever.
He kept riding through the hills and the mountains, until he reached the ocean. There, he tried to look for somewhere to buy some food with the few coins he had. In the market, a fisherman saw the prince and realized that his clothes were tattered and he looked very sad.
The young man looked like he had traveled a long distance. The fisherman was old and he needed someone to help him with his business. He decided to offer the prince a job in exchange for a place to stay. The prince became happy and agreed.
The prince helped the old sailor catch fish and sell it in the market of this new kingdom. The prince was hardworking and smart and he helped the sailor catch more fish than he ever did. Soon, they were catching the best, biggest, and tastiest fish in the entire kingdom.
Word got around, and the king of this new kingdom was so curious to see who this new stranger was that he invited him to the palace one day. He wanted to see the young fisherman for himself.
When the prince visited him, he told the King his story—how he used to be a prince but was banished from his own kingdom by his father.
This king was also very old and he did not have any children of his own to take care of his kingdom when he would die. He liked the prince and adopted him.
The prince thanked the sailor for taking care of him for so long and moved into the palace. There, he helped the king rule this kingdom. But the king became very sick and soon, he died. Now, the young prince was the king of this kingdom.
In the meantime, the prince’s real father was also getting very old. After he gave his two sons each a part of the kingdom, they revealed their true selves and began fighting with each other. They both wanted the last part of the kingdom for themselves. But they were both rude and evil and did not care at all about the people who lived in the kingdom—or their father. They only cared about money. The king was very worried.
He thought he would visit some other kings to see if they would help him fight his sons, who had both become too powerful and too greedy and were ruining his kingdom.
He decided to go to the kingdom next to his first. This was the kingdom, he heard, where the old king had just died but his adopted son had been crowned. He heard many good things about this new king. He was generous and caring and loyal to his subjects. This was a good place to start.
When the prince found out that his father would be visiting his kingdom, he quickly told his cooks to prepare an enormous feast. But, he gave them special instructions: don’t add salt to any of the dishes.
When his father arrived, the people cheered in the streets and the guards played their trumpets. The prince invited the old king into his royal dining room. The prince looked much older now and his father did not recognize him.
One by one, the cooks came into the dining hall and set up all of the food. The old king was so hungry—and everything looked so tasty! The dishes kept coming. There was meat and vegetables, stew and soups, everything you could imagine.
The old king sat down and he tried the first dish. Something did not taste right. Then, he tried another dish. One by one, he took a bite of each dish. Something was missing. He became angry at this young king. How could he dishonor his guest like this? There was no salt in any of the dishes—no one could eat this! All of the food looked beautiful, but nothing tasted good!
The old king cleared his throat and said, “Your majesty, there is no salt in this food. I have traveled for so long, and I cannot eat anything!”
The young prince looked at his father, and he said, “Yes, and don’t you see now how important salt is? Gold and jewels—we can live without these things. But salt, even though it is so simple, is more important than all the riches of the kingdom.”
The old king immediately started crying. He missed his youngest son, who had once told him that he loved him more than salt. Now he understood that he had made a very big mistake!
“I had a son, once, who told me he loved me more than salt,” said the old king. “How wise he was and how foolish I was. Now my kingdom is ruined. My sons, who said they loved me more than gold and jewels, didn’t really love me at all. But my youngest son did.”
The prince then revealed himself to his father. “I am your youngest son, father.” The old king was overjoyed. He hugged his youngest son and together they brought peace to the old king’s kingdom.
The moral of the story: (It’s worth explicitly mentioning this to your children. They may not be able to make the connection themselves. It’s also possible to derive multiple morals from this story. You and your children can get creative!)
A moral of the story can be not to underestimate simple ways of showing love. Sometimes, we cannot do big things to show people how much we love them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Sometimes, the small things matter more than the big things—and we should be grateful for the people we have in our lives.