Children thrive with routines. Usually, an evening routine will include dinner, a little play time, clean-up, and a bath before bed. Bedtime stories for kids are also great for this wind-down routine. When young children are exposed to a variety of stories, it helps them develop their imaginations and the stories provide many lessons that you can talk about with your child.
In addition to the learning that happens, it’s an incredible bonding time for parents and children. There aren’t many options during the day where it’s just you in a room having a conversation without distractions, so take advantage of this special time.
We’ve got a list of 14 of the best classic bedtime stories for kids, plus we’re sharing a few places you can get your hands on additional options for your children. This should give you a start for your nighttime routine to make it a little easier for parents who already have a lot going on.
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14 Classic Short Stories and Fairy Tales for Bedtime
Nursery rhymes are a great option for very young children, but once they are old enough to follow along with a story, there are so many classics to choose from. This collection is a great start.
A classic tale about a young girl who is raised by a stepmother after losing her parents. Every day, she is expected to complete chores and wait on her family members, but she remains pure and good and is rewarded for that. A fairy godmother appears and grants her a wish of being a princess for an evening. She falls in love with a prince and he tracks her down after the spell has worn off, no thanks to her horrible stepmother and stepsisters.
It’s a great story that has been told time and time again in different versions and iterations. There are quite a few characters that you can go into more detail on or leave them out if you want something shorter. Don’t forget to check out the Disney movie if your kids love this story.
The Ugly Duckling
Hans Christian Anderson has written some of the best stories that have been widely adapted for children. The story features a nest of eggs that all hatch and one of the birds does not look like the others. The beginning of the story is a little sad because one little duckling just doesn’t fit in and is made fun of by his brothers and sisters.
Once the duckling leaves home, he meets a lot of creatures and eventually finds a place where he fits in. It’s one of the great moral stories because it shows the readers that even if you feel like you don’t fit in, you’ll find your group and a place where you feel beautiful and part of something bigger.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
This British fairy tale features a little girl, named Goldilocks, and three bears who live in the woods. Goldilocks visits the bears’ home in the woods when they are not home. She tries their oatmeal, sits in their chairs, and sleeps in their beds. The bears return home and confront the little girl. There are quite a few versions of this story, but most of them end on a happy note.
The story helps kids learn that they need to respect the privacy and belongings of other people. It’s a great way to start that conversation.
The story of Sleeping Beauty is a favorite bedtime story and a very popular Disney movie as well. It’s about a young princess who is cursed as a young child by an evil queen. The curse is supposed to take place before her 16th birthday, so the king and queen hide her away and remove all the objects from the entire kingdom that could harm her.
As the princess approaches her 16th birthday, she learns about the curse and seeks out a way to make it happen, to avoid having to marry someone she doesn’t know. It just goes to show that you can’t completely avoid any possible harm in life, but it’s important to face the challenges. The side characters in this story are delightful, so enjoy the comic relief of the three fairies that watch over the princess.
The Frog Prince
Another story that helps teach the lesson about not judging people by their looks is The Frog Prince. It tells the story of a prince that has been turned into a frog. He approaches a princess and asks her to help him break the spell, but she is so disgusted and ignores him originally.
Eventually, he is turned back into a prince. It helps remind children (and adults) not to make any assumptions about people based on what they see but, instead, get to know them. This story was also the inspiration for The Princess Frog, which switches things around a little bit.
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is a story about a mermaid who just wants to explore the human world. She works with her best friends, a fish and a bird, to learn more about how humans live. The mermaid overcomes many obstacles to achieve her dreams.
Not only does the story help use the imagination to determine what life is like under the sea, but it also proves that if you have a dream, all you need to do is work hard and not give up when faced with challenges. There is no dream that is too big or too small and this story just highlights that with some hard work and support from friends, it’s possible to achieve anything.
The Three Little Pigs
The classic story of The Three Little Pigs shows that hard work and patience pay off in the end. The story follows a big, bad wolf that visits the homes of three little pigs. The first home was built of straw and could easily be blown down. The second home was built a little stronger with sticks, but the wolf was still able to blow the house down.
The third home was built of bricks and was stronger and tougher, so the wolf was not able to blow it down and the pigs inside were safe. The wolf even tried to climb through the chimney but they were ready. At the end of the story, the first two pigs went back and rebuilt their house with bricks. Doing things right the first time might take longer, but it’s better than having to redo it the right way later.
The classic tale of Pinocchio tells the story of a puppet who had the ability to be a real boy. With the magic of a fairy, he was able to walk and talk and if he could be a good boy, the fairy would return and make him into a real boy.
Throughout his day, he faces all kinds of temptations and difficult situations, just like anyone would in life. He learns that telling the truth and trying to do the right thing seemed harder at first, but it was the right thing to do and the only way he could become a real boy. The lessons of this story are about honesty and listening to your conscience even when it’s hard.
This German tale from the Brothers Grimm is a tale about a young baby born with special hair. There are many versions of the story; sometimes she is a princess and sometimes she was born to a man and woman who owed something to an evil witch. In all the stories, she is locked in a tower and has no opportunities to experience the world outside the tower.
Eventually, she is saved and is able to get out and live her life. This story is almost more directed to parents than children. The moral of the story is that no matter how much you try to shield children from the world, they will still get out and have those experiences. It’s best to help prepare them so that they are ready when the time comes.
A story about the dangers of vanity is Snow White. The evil queen is so worried about being the most beautiful person in the world and spends the entire story trying to track down Snow White. The young girl is helped by friends that she meets on her adventures.
Reading this story to children can help start a lot of conversations about insecurities and being helpful and friendly to those that you meet. The characters are wonderful and you will be able to follow up the story with a classic movie night as well.
Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale about a magic spell that left a handsome prince locked in a castle disguised as a scary beast and the young lady that is able to see through the beastly features to fall in love. Beauty and the Beast has a little bit of love, fear, kindness, and excitement.
Enjoy this beautiful story with your children while hearing some incredible examples of standing up for what’s important to you and seeing through looks to appreciate someone’s personality and qualities. Enjoy this classic, but beware because some versions are pretty scary for young children.
The Velveteen Rabbit
If Toy Story is a big hit in your household, the story of The Velveteen Rabbit would be a perfect bedtime story for your children. In the story, a young boy receives a new stuffed toy, the velveteen rabbit. He loves the toy and brings it everywhere until one day, he gets sick and the doctor says it must go because it’s filled with germs.
Once it’s taken to the garden, a fairy visits the rabbit and tells him that he will now become real. The most loved toys become real when their job as a toy is complete. The rabbit can run and hop and play with other rabbits and still visits the boy in the yard (even though the boy doesn’t know that it’s his old stuffed rabbit).
It’s a great story that teaches children that everything deserves love and respect. Toys may not come to life, but you should always appreciate the gifts you receive and show each item love and care.
Jack and the Beanstalk
A tale that has been told in many ways is Jack and the Beanstalk. The basic premise of the story is that a young boy comes across a bag of magic beans and plants them in his yard. A giant beanstalk grew out from the garden and he set off to see where it ended in the clouds. Upon reaching the top, he found himself in the home of a giant who had stolen things from Jack’s family and the people that live near him.
Jack finds a way to return the items to his family and escape the giant. It’s a story of a hero reclaiming what was his and taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him. It’s a great quick story to add on to nights when you might have a few others already queued up.
Little Red Riding Hood
The last classic that we will include on this list is Little Red Riding Hood. This is a story about being aware of strangers and helps teach kids about sticking to safe places and people that they can trust.
Little Red Riding Hood is a young girl who was instructed to bring some cake to her ill grandmother. Along her path, she meets a wolf and makes the mistake of telling him where she is going and that her grandmother is weak and sick. He runs ahead of the girl and gets into the grandmother’s house to wait for her.
You can use this as a great opener to discuss what information is important to keep from any strangers and what to do if they are ever in that situation.
Where to Find New Bedtime Stories
Once you’ve covered the classics or you want to try something different, there are a few places you can go for free stories or budget-friendly options. It’s nice to change up the narrator every once in a while or stock up on some things the kids can read on their own. You can also use stories that you remember from childhood, like Hansel and Gretel, but change them to be a little less scary and appropriate for young children.
Stories to Grow By
The website, Stories to Grow By, is a great resource when you’re looking for new stories right from your phone or tablet. There is a collection of free options that are perfect for bedtime.
Enjoy the stories in two ways. You can either just read the story from the website using your phone or computer (or even print off the story). Or you can press play and enjoy hearing someone else read the story while scrolling through the pictures.
This is great if you are traveling and you don’t want to pack a bunch of books for your child’s bedtime. You can easily access an entire library of favorites (like many of the options listed above) and even find some new stories.
YouTube is a great resource for all kinds of kids’ stories. You can find options that have drawings that go along with them or even videos of other people reading stories. This is a great option for long car rides or nights when a lot is going on in your home. It’s an easy tool for busy parents to take advantage of every once in a while.
It’s important to be cautious of screen time for very young children, but you can even just listen to the audio. You can also enjoy the free educational content and resources that can cover everything from the alphabet to the basics of another language.
Audible or Yoto Players
Once children get a bit older, they may want to do more independent reading outside of just bedtime stories. This can be difficult if they are not reading words on their own yet. Audiobooks can be a great tool for this. Libraries have access to a collection of audiobooks as long as you have a player for your children to use. Audible also has a program where you can get credits for audiobooks and access many children’s stories.
Another option that would make a great gift (although it isn’t free), is a Yoto Player. This is a screen-free audio player that allows kids to choose a card from a collection and pop it in the player and listen to a story being read. It helps avoid any additional screen time that comes with an audiobook on a phone or tablet, plus it gives your little one the ability to change the story and start a new one.
Look for Specific Holiday Stories
Many families keep a collection of books just for the holidays. There are specific Christmas stories, Halloween stories, Valentine’s Day stories, and more. It can help keep things fresh and relevant to the time of year by swapping them out.
We suggest keeping a box stored away for holiday-related items and you can swap them when you would normally swap your decorations. Bringing back stories that your kids haven’t seen in a while can be just like getting a brand new book while also triggering memories and starting to create traditions.
Your Local Library
Check out the local public library’s story collection for some new options. Getting a library card is simple and free and you will have instant access to hundreds or thousands of children’s books. Bring your kids with you and have them pick out some options. It’s a great way to keep introducing new items to your bookshelf.
If you don’t have a local public library, check to see if there are any free libraries in your neighborhood. These are small community boxes where people can leave books that their family is no longer reading and pick up anything new to bring home. The books are always free. Check multiple boxes because some might consistently have adult books and others might have more storybook options. It all depends on what the neighbors leave, so if you’re in a neighborhood with lots of families, this is a great way to share books with each other.
Make Up Your Own
One fun way to really change up your bedtime story routine is to make up your own story. You can use real-life events and add some creative flair, or just tell stories that you’ve lived through in your lifetime. This is a fun way to connect on another level with your children and share more about yourself with them in a unique way.
You can also make up a wild and crazy story that involves various imaginary characters or the current interests of your children. Incorporate them into the story by asking them questions and turning it into a Choose Your Own Adventure type story.
This is the ultimate free bedtime story option because it only requires your imagination and your voice, so you don’t need access to any other resources to come up with your story. Maybe you’ll create a new masterpiece.
Settle in for storytime with your little one!
Enjoy the classics listed above with your younger children and set them up for success when they get older. Before long, they will be reading you books like Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, and other chapter books before bed. Make this a family tradition that everyone loves.
Frequently Asked Questions
Incorporate storytime into your nighttime routine by putting together a small collection of bedtime stories for kids. Let the little ones to add to the pile, and pick one each night.
Try one of these bedtime stories for kids, or use an online resource like YouTube kids. Look for a collection of Sweet Dreams Five-Minute Books!