Whatever history kids learn in school, family history is way cooler. The key is sharing family history with kids using these helpful tips.
- Why Is Family History Important for Kids?
- How to Share Family History with Kids
- Getting Started in Genealogy
- Start Sharing Family History with These Books
“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Isn’t that getting tired? Instead, how about, “In 1924 grandma repainted the door—in that hot pink color”?
Whatever history facts kids learn in school, family history is way cooler. The key is just finding the right ways to share it with them.
Sharing family history with our children not only helps them understand where they come from but also instills a deep sense of connection, belonging, and a profound appreciation for the legacies that have shaped their lives—and their hot pink doors!
Why Is Family History Important for Kids?
Family history is important for kids because it can have a lasting impact on their development and sense of identity. According to the Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, kids who learn family history show “higher self-esteem, lower levels of behavior problems, such as withdrawal and aggression, higher sense of self-efficacy, and a more differentiated sense of self.” Some more positive benefits of sharing family history with kids are
- a sense of identity and belonging,
- cultural awareness,
- a sense of continuity,
- family bonding,
- appreciation and knowledge of history,
- preservation of stories,
- understanding relationships,
- appreciation for sacrifices,
- increased motivation and inspiration for achievements and goals,
- critical thinking and research skills,
- connection to geography,
- respect for elders, and
How to Share Family History with Kids
Family history can get a bit complicated. For example, kids might have two sets of parents, or they might only know their mom. No matter the whys, or whatever other questions your kid asks, the key is sharing this family history in a way they can understand and appreciate.
Tailor your approach to your child’s age and interests, and let their curiosity lead the way. Over time, you may find that they develop a deeper appreciation for their family’s history and heritage. And remember, you’ll get the most out of it if you can make family history fun instead of seeming like a chore.
Here are some tips on how to approach the topic and engage kids in conversations about family history:
Choose Age-Appropriate Stories
Start with age-appropriate stories and anecdotes from your family’s history. Younger children may enjoy hearing simple stories about their grandparents’ childhoods, while older kids can delve into more complex family narratives.
Use Storytelling Techniques
Share family stories in a storytelling format. Use descriptive language and engage their imagination to help them visualize the past.
Use Visual Aids
Photos, maps, and family trees can be powerful visual aids to make the stories more engaging. Show them pictures of relatives when they were young or images of ancestral hometowns.
Create a Family Tree
Make a simplified family tree together. Start with the child, their parents, and grandparents. Explain the relationships and connections as you go along.
Visit Ancestral Locations
If possible, take a family trip to visit ancestral hometowns or significant places in your family’s history. This can make history come to life for kids.
Involve kids in interviewing older relatives. Ask them to come up with questions and record the conversations. This can be a great bonding experience and a way to learn more about their family history.
Document Family Traditions
Explain family traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations. Share the stories behind these traditions, and actually do the tradition your kids are learning.
Use age-appropriate genealogy websites and apps, like FamilySearch, that make family history research interactive and fun for kids. Some apps even have games related to genealogy.
Celebrate Family Holidays
Family holidays can be a perfect time to share family history. For example, during Thanksgiving, talk about family traditions and the history of the holiday in your family.
Incorporate Art and Crafts
Engage kids in creative activities related to family history. They can create a family history scrapbook, draw pictures of ancestors, or make a family history timeline.
Read Books and Watch Movies
There are many children’s books and movies that explore themes of family history and heritage. Read or watch these together and discuss them afterward.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Encourage kids to ask questions and express their curiosity. Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think life was like for your great-grandparents?” This can spark their imagination and lead to great family history stories.
Respect Their Interests
While it’s important to share family history, also respect a child’s interests and boundaries. Don’t overwhelm them with information or pressure them to be interested if they’re not ready. Instead, find ways to encourage curiosity in ways they’ll accept and appreciate.
Make It a Routine
Incorporate family history discussions into your routine. You can have a weekly “family history night” where you share stories or work on a family history project together. Or you can make it a habit to write journals together, talk with grandparents and other family members, and embody family traditions.
Connect History to the Present
Help kids see the connections between their family’s history and their own lives. For example, explain how certain family values or traditions have been passed down.
As kids get older, encourage them to take ownership of their family history research. They can start to keep their own records and even conduct their interviews with relatives.
Getting Started in Genealogy
Getting kids interested in family history is only the beginning. The most important part of sharing family history is documenting it and preserving it for future generations. With tools like FamilySearch and Ancestry, keeping and searching records is easier than ever. You can get started with their resources for beginners.
However, if that isn’t an option for you, there’s quite a bit of satisfaction in doing the family history work yourself. Searching census reports, birth and death records, newspapers, journals, scrapbooks, and many other forms of information can result in a family history that’s worth putting in a book. Literally! You can take all of the information you’ve collected—all the history, traditions, and stories—and compile it into one amazing book that’ll be a perfect gift for all the members of your family. (That’s what my family did, and we display it with pride in our living room.)
Whether you’re just sharing stories or are ready to print your family anthology, sharing the joy of your family’s history with your kids can only deepen your relationships and give them an appreciation for history and learning.
Start Sharing Family History with These Books
Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.