Getting children excited about family history may sound intimidating, but the benefits they can experience from knowing their family history are worth every effort. Knowing family stories has been proven to result in higher self-esteem, resilience, a sense of place and security, a strong sense of control, lower levels of behavioral problems, and more successful family function (studies done by University of Wisconsin, Princeton University, and Emory University).
But how can we help children experience these benefits? According to Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch, our goal should be to help them “have a small discovery experience that invokes emotion…that’s what is going to spread…Discovery brings the spirit and emotion to it” (Trent Toone, “5 Questions with FamilySearch CEO Steve Rockwood,” Deseret News, 1 Mar. 2018).
This discovery experience will help inspire children to love family history themselves. So what should you consider when deciding what kind of discovery experience to create for your child or grandchild?
Try to remember what it was like to be their age. Make it fun and unique to them. Traveling to cemeteries and churches may not interest young children and may even bore them but a bedtime story would engage them and ingrain the stories of their ancestors into their minds. In contrast, adults may not get as much excitement out of a picture-matching game as they would attending or planning an ancestor night or planning and going on a trip to the homeland of their ancestors.
Do they like acting, drawing, cooking, organizing? Do they find maps interesting or do they enjoy music? Let their interests guide you.
3. Learning Style
We all have different ways that we learn best. The three learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Consider the individual learning style of your child and choose any idea that will cater to that style. Some children will gravitate toward hands-on games and projects, and others will lean toward reading books about the time period ancestors lived.
Once you have thought about these three key factors, you are ready to choose an idea and inspire! Here are three fun ideas to inspire your children or grandchildren to love family history!
1. Generations Project
Let the child choose an ancestor to connect with. Think together about what you know about him or her. Where did they live? What did they do for a profession or hobby? What skills did they have? What traditions did they have? What did they eat?
Once you have learned this information about your ancestor, choose a project such as:
- Learn something or do something that they did such as fishing, using a washboard, knitting, gardening, going to an opera, or having a picnic in the mountains.
- Visit a place they lived or frequented such as a lake, the ocean, or a park.
- Do one of their traditions.
- Make one of their recipes.
Children can consider what their ancestor may have thought during the activity— for example, did they find the activity difficult or relaxing? Was the place beautiful in their eyes? Was the recipe delicious?
2. Create an Ancestor Playlist
Psychologist Jill Suttie said, “Listening to music and singing together has been shown in several studies to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connection… Playing music or singing together may be particularly potent in bringing about social closeness through the release of endorphins” (“How Music Bonds Us Together,” Greater Good Magazine, June 2016).
By listening to music your ancestors listened to and loved, these connections can even cross generations! Make a playlist of songs your ancestors might have enjoyed. You may be able to ask living relatives about the music that their parents and grandparents listened to. They may know specific songs or they may just remember a genre of music.
If there aren’t any living relatives to ask, then you can find out what music was popular during the time period and in the location of your ancestors. After you have the playlist together, listen to it in the car or at home and talk about the ancestors who liked those songs as they come on. No matter what the children think of the music, they will connect with their ancestor in a new way.
3. Play Games
“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning” (Diane Ackerman). There are so many games you can play to help children connect to their ancestors. Make a trivia game with fun facts about ancestors. This can be done in the form of Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, and Bingo. You can also make card games with the photos of ancestors and play games such as Go Fish and Memory. Make the difficulty level age appropriate. These games will make learning about ancestors fun and engaging!
Shenley was inspired to love family history when her mom told her stories and helped her diagram her family tree when she was a child. For the past 16 years, she has spent many hours researching, interviewing relatives, digging through old boxes and records, and sharing what she has learned with others. While homeschooling their three children, Shenley and her husband, Brett, incorporate family history as much as possible. She has taught family history classes to children, youth, and adults, and strives to inspire her family, friends, and everyone to love family history. Besides doing family history, Shenley enjoys going to the mountains, playing tennis, baking, reading, and traveling.