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Historians Young and Old (some with rabbits)

Marcia Mayo

History Just for Kids is a place to share ideas for helping children understand that history is about real people in real places and it not only happened in the past, it's also happening right now. If you have a site you love or an idea you'd like to share, let me know and I'll include it.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Tell Me a Memory: Summer's a Great Time for Sharing Family History

Whether it’s spending a month at Uncle Al’s chicken farm or a week with extended family at the beach, summer is a good time not only for making new family memories but also for sharing the ones you already have. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a riveting game of Go Fish around the kitchen table or getting brain freeze from ice cream churned on the back porch, kids, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and if you’re lucky, great grandparents are all available to share family history.

Family history is important for everyone. Children learn about connections over time and how some things never change, grown-ups in the middle get the chance (and the captive audience) to ask the questions that, at some point, will be pondered too late. And elders have the opportunity to pass on their legacy and their “things just aren’t as good as they used to be” reflections.

But there can be pitfalls. Great Aunt Betty may not be able to remember, Grandpa may ramble, and sweet Little Frankie may prefer to bonk his sister on the head with his sticky spoon rather than sit still for yet another long story.

As a former elementary teacher and a current grandmother, I’ve experienced (and been guilty of) most of the problems listed above. So, I’ve come up with some general guidelines and helpful hints for making this summer’s family vacation a truly memorable one.

  • Plan ahead but don’t over plan. Packing a few old pictures and/or relics could be helpful but a suitcase full of dusty photo albums might cause a mass exodus into jelly-fish infested surf. Remember the primary reason for families to share time and space with each other is to make new memories, not to ruin old ones.
  • Keep it quick and specific. Have everyone name a favorite toy or a time when they got hurt. You might want to agree on one quick topic each evening during dinner and then go around the table. It’s okay to take a pass. A forgetter may remember later.
  • Make sure to include the kids in the telling. They have memories too, and they especially enjoy telling grotesque stories about injuries, often embellishing the number of stitches or just how far the broken bone stuck out of their arm.
  • Keep it upbeat. Family gatherings are not the venue for bringing up the time Aunt Sylvia disappeared for a week and a half, unless it’s already family lore that she was kidnapped by aliens.
  • If it’s going well, let it continue. Memories beget more memories and an initial destination having to do with a time you got in trouble at school can often lead you down some great side streets and a few interesting back alleys. I do need to say here that this particular topic will almost always make school-aged kids clam up. If their parents aren’t already aware of that exploding toilet science experiment that was totally misunderstood by their teacher last fall, children have enough sense to know that a booth at the Cracker Barrel might not be a good place to bring it up.
  • Parents: make sure you tell your own tales and not those of your children. You don’t want to embarrass your offspring, no matter how old (or guilty) they are.

Before you know it, your vacation visit is over and everyone is sunburned and ready to sleep in their own beds. But the trip was a great one, one you will want to remember. A good way to end this time might be to document the memories while they are still fresh, perhaps in a journal or on the mat surrounding a great photo, with each person recording his or her own thoughts or recollection. Scribbles by preschoolers and Great Grandmother’s handwritten note will become precious mementos before too many more summers happen by.

Below are some links that could be helpful in thinking about how to generate and gather family memories this summer. But remember: Don't overdo it. After all, you're on vacation.

Questions to Ask

Fifty Questions for Family Interviews

Questions for Kids to Ask

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