I'm a writer who hates making up bedtime stories. Here's what happened when I tried an AI story-generating app.
My kids love getting personalized bedtime stories.
But as someone who writes all day, I'm creatively tapped out by bedtime.
My kids had fun experimenting with a story generation app.
"You're sure you don't want to just read a book? Maybe the tickle one?" I looked at my 4-year-old hopeful.
"No," she said firmly. "The tooth fairy story."
For the next 10 minutes, I tried to improv an engaging yet also calming story about my daughter going to the tooth fairy's castle. Until that moment, I hadn't even realized the tooth fairy had a castle, so each time my daughter interjected with a question — "was the slide made from teeth? Are teeth slippery?" — I kind of wanted to curl up myself. When she finally looked sleepy, I slunk out of the room.
As a writer, I love crafting a narrative. Unless it's at bedtime. I'm creatively tapped out by the end of the day and would much rather read words on a page. But my daughters adore personalized stories. So, I jumped at the chance to try SmartDreams, an app that uses artificial intelligence to generate bedtime stories. I was slightly concerned about AI stealing my job as a content creator, but this was one writing assignment I'd gladly give up.
My kids loved the app
I downloaded the app and poked around a bit. It seemed harmless enough, so I pulled out my phone at bedtime. "I want to try something," I told my girls. Always game for a little bedtime procrastination, they obliged.
I typed my older daughter's name into the app and then handed her the phone. She got to pick a sidekick from four animals. Since she adores all animals, that was an instant in. Then, she chose the setting — an enchanted ice palace — and a favorite food. As she clicked continue and the app generated her story, I wondered where chicken soup could possibly fit into a bedtime narrative.
I was slightly disappointed to see that the app doesn't read the stories to the kids — I was still on the hook for something. But that ended up having unexpected benefits since the stories were the perfect level for my third grader, who read them aloud to her sister, sneaking in a bit more reading practice as I sat back, relaxed, and let someone else field the questions.
I realized that bedtime stories don't have to make sense
The stories on SmartDreams won't be winning any Pulitzers — and I feel a bit better about my day job security. And yet, my kids loved the way the pieces that they chose fit into the narrative. I've got to admit, I'd never spin a tale of a girl and a toucan living in an underwater rainforest searching for magical chicken soup. But this seemed to be just the type of story my kids wanted to hear.
After the first night of playing with the app, my kids started requesting to "make a story." SmartDreams moved out of the bedtime routine but popped up in the middle of the day. Normally I buy myself five minutes by letting my kids look at pictures on my phone, but I was just as happy to have them creating silly stories, even if it was with some technological assistance.
Listening to their tales, I realized I had been taking the whole bedtime story routine too seriously. My kids don't care much about narrative arcs — they just want to have a bit of fun before bedtime. Now that I've taken the pressure off bedtime stories, the whole thing is a bit more fun. Plus, I realized that I'd rather be cuddled in with the kids, having their eyes on me, rather than a screen.
And so, I'm back to bedtime stories. Follow me for the adventures of a spaghetti-eating walrus and the little girls who love him — because I love those children enough to make the last few minutes of their day extra special.
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