Tips from the Pros: Stir a Child’s Interest, from Maureen Taylor

Getting kids interested in family history can be easy or hard depending on the child and their interests. There are a couple of simple things you can do to grab their attention.

  • Tell Stories
    Find a way to work the past into an everyday moment. You don’t have to relate ancestral tales of adventure although sometimes that helps. In second grade, my son was fascinated by an ancestor who protected a New England town from wolves. He ran to school to tell his teacher and friends. My daughter on the other hand, likes to compare her life to the other women in the family. 
  • Childhood Fun
    Do you remember the colors in the Crayola box from when you were a kid? It’s a great conversation starter as you sit down with a child to draw or color. One thing leads to another. Begin by chatting about your memories of art projects and before you know it you’ll be passing along facts and memories of your own childhood as you color within the lines. 
  • Give and Take
    In addition to talking, you’ll be listening as your child or grandchild joins in the conversation. Kids are curious about all aspects of life including their predecessors. All it takes is a few moments of time to join them in an activity of their choosing. The last time my Mom visited she sat on the couch next to my son as he played a video game. Within moments he was explaining to her how to work the controls and she was sharing stories of the things she liked to do when she was his age. There was a lot of listening going on.

Take a few moments to share your interest in family history with a child by looking at photographs, telling a tale, or playing a game. If you’re looking for ideas check out the age appropriate activities on the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Youth Committee website, Future Genealogists. 

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6 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Stir a Child’s Interest, from Maureen Taylor

  1. Tell Stories

    Telling Stories about your ancestors is a great way to get your kids interested in family history. I do share the fun stories of our ancestors with my oldest. But now I’ve also started to publish books about our ancestors here: http://www.untangledfamilyroots.com. He loves to read the books. We recently got in one I did about his grandfather, who is still living but miles away from us. My son couldn’t put it down until he had read the whole thing. He couldn’t believe that the pictures were of his grandfather and that his grandfather was in Vietnam. The more I share with him the more he loves history, even in school.

  2. Recently, I traveled to Idaho to meet with a family reunion full of 2nd cousins that I had heard about my whole life but never before met. I did this as part of a large scale project to document my dad’s Smith family. My Ggradfather had 9 brothers and sisters who scattered to the four winds, and I made it my job to travel the country, meeting cousins, collecting their photographs and letters, and tell mini life stories for as many of these cousins as I could.

    I always travel with my laptop and scanner (to capture rare photos that the families have), and I usually take along my scrapbooks, in which I create layouts of those photographs.

    I was tickled to find myself surrounded by rapt 10 year olds who were full of questions: How did I start doing this? WHY did I start doing this? How did I find all these people? How did I make the cool (50 foot long!) family tree? Were we related to anybody famous? Where do I buy the cool scrapbook supplies? How were we related? I’d no sooner answer one question then another would pop out. One of them even asked me if she could have my research when I died! (I hope she’s just thinking way ahead here!)

    I highly recommend Karen Foster’s Family Tree papers that have a place for facts, and a place for each person’s picture. Being able to see all the family members all at once, what they look like, and their vital data makes them invaluable. These really seemed to attract the kids and draw them into the project. Don’t just let your pictures sit in a drawer. Include them in your research. The kids will follow!

  3. My great-grandfather (1848-1931) died before I was born. Due to his ingunity,info on him was often printed in our hometown newspaper during the 40s and 50s. My mother saved these and made a book of them. Three years ago when my hometown (Rocky Mount, NC) decided to induct outstanding natives into the Twin County “Hall of Fame” I combined the info from those clippings and wrote a biography of my great-grandfather. He was one chosen for the Inaugural Induction. Learning of this honor, we contacted as many of his descendents as possible. Attendees came from Tenn., VA., and FL as well as all over NC. I have shared the info of his life with many relatiaves, and am pleased that my mother had sved the newspaper clippings

  4. Another way to spark children’s interest is to contact your local boy scout troup and offer your expertise. They have a geneology merit badge that all of my boys have earned. I have acted as the merit badge counslor for their troup for a number of years now and am getting ready for another group of boys next week. We usually meet for an hour or so for three weeks with the boys doing some home work talking with parents and grandparents to gather information. I also show them how to use a basic free genealogy program like PAF and how to do some simple searches on the internet. Today’s children are very computer savoy and easy to teach. They usually only need me to show them once and then they are hot on the trail.

  5. When I was a child I loved to hear stories about my parents very different turn of the century childhoods. My mother grew up in Philadelphia as a doctor’s daughter and my father on a farm in Iowa. A very special treat was to go through my great grandmother’s trunk full of clothing, letters and memoribalia with my mother telling me bout the things we found.

    I think it was the stories and the trunk that sparked my lifelong interest in family history and how people lived in the past and led me to a professional career working in historical societies.

  6. Sometimes when my son becomes frustrated with what I refer to as “the obstacle course of life” — those little problems we all come across day to day, trying to get through some task — I tell him about one of the stories I’ve found while tracking our family history. Thanks to the incredible amount of info compiled and made available by LDS, I know what everyday life was like for my early pioneer ancestors. Exhausting!! The look on his face, after showing him on a map just how far of a walk it was from Nebraska to Utah- with all of your stuff in one of these handcarts- or your sick husband in the handcart…

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