The last words a parent wants to hear during school vacation are "I'm bored" followed by "There is nothing to do." There is a simple solution. Introduce your children to family history through a few activities. Don't let them know that this is educational, let that be your secret. These projects can enliven a rainy day or provide for entertainment during a family vacation. With a little advance planning, you can have all of the necessary supplies on hand.
Review Your Research
Can you find interesting bits of family history in your genealogical research to help you plan some summer fun? Start by making a list of where people lived, their occupations, military participation and favorite pastimes. In order to capture your children's attention you need to focus on what types of family history information they might find appealing. For the sports minded child talking about an ancestor's involvement with early baseball and attending a game might be a thoroughly enjoyable activity. A short visit to your public library for information on the history of baseball could be the icebreaker and can place your genealogical data within historical context. Did your grandmother pass a recipe down to you? You can spend some time discussing her life while making her favorite food.
Let Your Children Help With Planning
Children tend to be more enthusiastic about projects and trips when they are involved in the planning process. Casually discuss the types of field trips, family vacation spots, or indoor activities that you have in mind. See which ones catch their interest. You might be able to encourage them to spend an afternoon helping you outline future adventures. Be sure to make use of their computer skills to find information online.
Choose Age-Appropriate Activities
Older children will be able to handle independent projects, but young children will need additional help and supervision. Keep in mind your child's attention level. One child may be able to sit and work quietly for an hour or more while other children seek out active play. As every parent knows it can be difficult to balance the needs of everyone in the family.
Before summer arrives prepare an activity box that you can pull out for those stormy days or to occupy time while traveling. A basic supply kit for those occasions should include: drawing paper, writing instruments, things to color with, glue sticks, disposable cameras (buy an assortment of these on sale), playing cards, copies of family photographs, postcards, or old letters, magnifying glasses and clipboards or erasable boards. If you are planning indoor amusements there are a number tasks that can completed on a computer.
Family History Activities
Publish a Family Newsletter
Is your child the inquisitive type that likes to ask questions? Use that energy and curiosity to have them create a family newsletter. They can interview relatives about their interests, incorporate family stories, and create a calendar of family events. If you have a scanner they can insert photographs into their creation. Let them e-mail their publication to interested family members or photocopy on brightly colored paper and send via regular mail.
Have a Treasure Hunt
Encourage children to learn about their ancestor's lives by having them locate items in the house or outdoors that were either known or unknown to different generations. For instance, a simple inquiry, "What was in Great Grandmother's Kitchen?" helps children imagine what life what like. This will naturally lead to a set of other questions regarding her daily life. Or if you have artifacts around the house ask your children a list of leading questions that will help them discover information about those items such as how they were used and who owned them.
Play Old Games
Many of the games that children play today are variations of those played by generations of family members. Hopscotch, jacks, and horseshoes can become more interesting when played in the original way and called their old names of Scotch Hoppers, Jackstones, and Quoits. A little library research can help them discover "new" games such as Thread the Needle and Hoop-Rolling or variations of ones they are already familiar with like marbles and checkers.
Pull out all those family photos that are stored away and let your children react to the images. Tell them the stories associated with the images if you know them, if not ask them to imagine what is happening in the photograph. It is advisable to hand out pairs of clean white gloves (available at most hardware stores) before handling the images. No matter how clean our hands are we still cause damage through touching the pictures. Purchase a couple of inexpensive magnifying glasses and have the children examine the pictures for clues as to what's going on. You may not have the time to spend organizing and identifying your photographs, but your children may have fun looking over the images, creating stories, and writing down their discoveries. Learn more about handling photographs from " Protecting Family Memories from Time ."
Do any relatives live near you? Plan a visit and have your children interview that person. Let them develop a list of questions based on what you know about them. They can either write down their answers, tape-record them or use a camcorder, it depends on what equipment you have available. Be sure to have them make the arrangements to visit by asking the family member for permission ahead of time.
Create a Free Family Tree Online
Have your child go online and create a family tree. This is a free activity and one that requires no additional supplies. Your well-organized family history research is all that a child with computer skills needs to start this project. You may decide to work with your child to discover new information on the family by posting messages on surname lists and doing some online searching. Just be sure to verify all your family history data before you post it.
Take a Family History Vacation
Use the family history information that you have gathered to plan a different type of vacation.
- Have your child or children plot the places their ancestors lived on a map. They can then help by researching either online or at the library events and locations related to their family history. By visiting those ancestral places, you will be helping them develop a sense of family history.
- Do you have postcards written by relatives or souvenir booklets of places they visited? Take photocopies of those items with you on your next journey and use them to compare and contrast the experiences of other relatives with your own.
- Let your children experience family history first hand by going to a Living History Museum. Whatever your ethnic or cultural background there is probably a museum that helps children gain a sense of their past through hands on activities. Many Living History Museums use costumed interpreters that can answer questions. Each region of the country has something to offer. Some of the more popular destinations are Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, African Village, Sheldon SC and if you want to experience travel from pioneer perspective contact Oregon Trail Wagon Train.
- Bring along the basic supply kit and let your children create a memory album of their experiences. You provide the tools and they decide the format.
Family history can be a wonderful intergenerational activity so why not incorporate it into your summer plans!
Maureen A. Taylor, Owner and Principal of Ancestral Connections, combines her background in history, genealogy, photography and library science to assist individuals and institutions with research and project management. She is the author of several genealogical books and articles including the recent Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs (Betterway, 2000) and a guide to family history for kids, Through the Eyes of Your Ancestors (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). Her columns on genealogy appear in Ancestry Daily News and in Reunions magazine.