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Connecting Kids & Grandparents

How to become a family historian.

Whether grandparents live near or far, kids can connect with them in a variety of ways with rewarding results for the whole family. Grandparents can take center stage as interviewees or the main subjects of the project, or work behind the scenes to provide pictures, names, dates, memorabilia, and anecdotes. They learn to respect the role the older generation has played in shaping the family, as well as develop an appreciation of the role they themselves will play for future generations. Either way, make sure to ask if they want to offer hands-on help with the actual assembly or creation of the project.

Family History

Family History

The first step is to decide how you want to record the family’s history. Two traditional and fairly simple ideas are a family tree and a family history timeline. Either can be drawn on paper or fashioned in the form of a photo collage.

Family Quilt

If you’re a bit more adventurous (and have more time) you can tap into your family’s personality to create a truly unique record of the past. For example, a family quilt – no sewing skills required! Most craft and fabric stores carry no-sew quilting fabric and kits. Each member of the family can create a quilt square that depicts an event in the family history. Since children have the least life experience, encourage them to ask grandparents for ideas. Offering a variety of media will enrich the experience and guarantee creative results. Younger kids will find it easy to draw with fabric markers or glitter glue, use permanent ink to stamp a pattern or handprint, or use a hot glue gun (with adult supervision) to attach memorabilia to their square. Older kids and adults can do all of that and also sew, paint, collage, tie-dye or embroider a square.

Scrapbook or Journal

A multi-generational scrapbook is another way for kids and grandparents to work together to create a family treasure. Assign a page or pages to each family member to fill with drawings, photos, writing, or memorabilia from a time or event that was meaningful for them. If possible, give kids an opportunity to look through the completed book with their grandparents and relive the past through their grandparents’ memories.

Children often have a hard time thinking of their parents and grandparents as children or young adults. A multi-generational journal is a great way to make family history real for them. One way to do this is to purchase an inexpensive blank journal. Help your kids develop a list of “When you were my age…” interview questions for their grandparents, and write one question at the top of each page. For example, “When you were my age what books did you read? When you were my age what did you play with, study in school, or eat for breakfast? What kind of clothes did you wear? What were your friends’ names? Where did you live? What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you celebrate holidays?” Beware… your kids may ask about favorite HD television programs, video games, or websites, because they’ve never known a time without them!

Ask grandparents to record their answers on the journal pages and then return it. Kids can then add their own responses and talk with grandparents about similarities and differences between their lives at the same age.

Another way to make a family journal is to circulate the journal among the extended family, giving it to each person in turn on or near their birthday. Whoever has the journal records their reflections of the previous year, goals for the coming year, memories of birthdays past, and wishes for the next birthday person.

Family History Video

Do you have a video enthusiast in the clan? You may want to produce a family history video. Each family member can prepare a list of questions and take a turn interviewing grandparents on camera. The following tips will help make sure the end product is lively and interesting:

  • Avoid questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”.
  • Encourage storytelling with open-ended questions such as, “What can you tell me about your first job?” or “What is the most adventurous thing you did as a child?”
  • Prepare questions about a variety of stages in grandparents’ lives, including early childhood, young adulthood, adulthood, middle age, and later years.
  • Ask for specific memories like favorite foods or sports teams, holiday traditions, and names of pets.
  • Compare family members’ questions ahead of time to avoid redundancies.
  • Give grandparents a chance to turn the tables and ask questions of their interviewers.
  • Finish by asking grandparents if there is anything else they would like to talk about.

Make a Game of It

If you’re a family of game players, you may find it rewarding to make a family history BINGO or trivia game. This multi-step project will be most successful if each family member is assigned a specific part of the project to complete. For example, ask grandparents to choose the general topics, e.g., Childhood Summers, Hobbies, or Favorite Things. Identify one family member responsible for gathering trivia from everyone else, someone to collate the trivia into the general topics, and others to work on the physical production of the game.

Even young children can decorate trivia question and answer cards, trace a BINGO grid on card stock, and participate in making decisions about game rules.

Family Cookbook

Does your family share a love of cooking (or eating)? You can create a family cookbook. Solicit recipes from extended family, and ask them to include pictures, drawings, or writing about the origin of the recipe, special memories of preparing it, and any cultural or personal significance. The cookbook format can be ink and paper (printed Word documents), mid-tech (a Power Point presentation) or state-of-the-art (an interactive “living” cookbook on a family website).

Sally Bacchetta is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. Illustration by Matt Smeltzer

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