We often urge families to preserve their histories and share their stories, pointing to research by Dr. Marshall P. Duke at Emory University showing that children who know their family histories and traditions tend to be more resilient and able to better deal with life’s challenges. What can you do to encourage your family to preserve its history and pass it along?
For starters, make plans to attend a free class for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 12 at the Little House in Jewell Park on this coming Saturday, August 6, from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Heidi Feldman and Patricia Hamilton, in partnership with the Pacific Grove Public Library, will guide you through the writing and sharing process, and offer tips on how you can later create your own book about you and your family. Snacks and all materials will be provided. All we ask is that the child be accompanied by a parent or adult friend. This is a free event but space is limited, so please register in advance at the children’s desk in the library. This column originally appeared in the August 5, 2016 issue of the Pacific Grove Cedar Street Times.
To continue the process beyond a half-day workshop, here are some fun, simple, low-cost family activities that encourage writing, story-telling and sharing:
Eat Your Words, Draw a Map, Make a Book
Eat Your Words: Young kids just learning their ABCs will love this. Next time you’re baking dinner rolls or cookies, shape or cut out the dough into words that will be meaningful to the child. For example, if she’s desperate over cats, shape the dough into words like “Meow.” From www.greatschools.org.
A Day in the Life: Another idea from the Great Schools website—help the child create a story based on one day in his or her life. For young kids, buy a disposable camera. If they’re older and can be trusted, let them use your cell phone camera. Have them take pictures of their daily routine, hour-by-hour, print out the pictures and paste them on construction paper, leaving plenty of space between each picture. Then, have the child write a caption for each picture.
The Map Activity: Have each family member draw a map and identify landmarks. Younger children can draw their neighborhood and the route to school, while older kids and teens can expand their world, showing shopping centers, athletic fields, movie theaters, and other landmarks important to them. While the kids are busy with their paper and crayons, Mom and Dad—and the grandparents, if they’re around—are busy drawing maps of the neighborhoods where they grew up. When everyone’s finished, compare and talk about your maps. From the National Writing Project, www.nwp.org.
Family Time Capsule: A fun activity for all ages—be sure to involve the grandparents! Have family members write a letter describing their life right now. Collect items that typify this moment in time: newspapers, magazines, photographs, coins, postage stamps, and lists of popular movies, TV shows and slang. Don’t forget the family pets—kids will love being able to write a letter from the pet, including paw prints. Decide by family vote when to open the time capsule. Then, pack everything away in a jar or tin. You don’t have to bury the time capsule in the backyard—the attic, basement, or other out-of-the-way hiding place will work just fine. From www.legacyproject.org.
Make a Book: To really help your budding writer feel a sense of accomplishment, collect some of his or her best stories and bind them up in a book. You can easily do this with cardboard covers, or by putting clear Con-Tact paper over a specially created cover illustration on heavy paper. Smaller books can be stapled or bound with yarn. For larger projects, consider having the book spiral-bound at an office supply store. Craft stores are another great resource for book-making materials and kits. To make the book really special, include a table of contents, a title page, and a bio about the young author.
A Message to My Future Self: Older kids and teens (and adults too!) will find this activity especially meaningful. Go to www.futureme.org and write an email to yourself. Then, pick a date in the future when you want the email to be delivered to you. A wonderful way to kick off a new school year, or make a record of an important milestone like leaving for college or starting a first job.
Passing Down the Family Wisdom
Hands down, the very best family story project is the simplest. Namely, encourage grandparents to share family stories with their grandchildren. Instead of merely conveying facts, these stories carry important messages. As the Legacy Project website states, “These messages, often subtle in nature, become incorporated into a sort of ‘family wisdom’ that can set a behavior and thought pattern for future generations. So, how you tell stories is just as important as the stories you tell. Your attitude about goals, roadblocks, and your eventual success or failure communicates something about yourself and the legacy you are creating for your grandchildren.”
Reserve your space now for the free class in memoir writing for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 12 at the Little House in Jewell Park this Saturday, August 6, from 10:00 a.m. to noon. Heidi Feldman and Patricia Hamilton, in partnership with the Pacific Grove Public Library, will guide you through the writing and sharing process, and offer tips on how you can later create your own book about you and your family. Snacks and all materials will be provided. Children should be accompanied by a parent or adult friend. Register in advance at the children’s desk in the library.