Getting children to like, even want to do family history is doable!
There are lots of ways to do it.
Start simply by getting children to think about their ancestors and what they did. “This is what Grandma made for Sunday dinner.” “Grandpa used to have a car like this.” Tell or read stories from your ancestor’s lives. Play the games they played. Look at the family pictures and talk about the people and the background in the pictures. Help your children get an idea of what life was like for their predecessors.
Family Home Evenings can be a wonderful place to introduce family history. Games and projects can easily be created to add fun, teaching activities for lesson. Make a large pedigree or family group sheet then use photocopied picture of ancestors to fill in the spaced. Help children do their own smaller charts using reduced pictures or drawing their own pictures. Talk about ancestral legends. Let children dictate their own memories of their grandparents and stories they have heard about them to make their own family albums. Family recipes can be used as part of the activity and eaten for refreshments.
Young children can learn the concepts needed to fill out pedigree charts: the child is on the first line on the left with parents, then grandparents and great grandparents being added as the paper is filled from left to right. Fathers’ names are written on the top, even numbered lines while mothers’ names are beneath them on the odd numbered lines. Write complete dates—day, month, year—and places—town, county, state, country.
Only ask children to do things that they are capable of doing successfully and give them the directions they need to do their tasks correctly.
Cemeterying is a great way to start children off actually contributing to the great amount of material necessary to do the redeeming work for our dead. First, just casually visiting a cemetery is a good way to help eliminate some of the fear children may have of the area. Go for a walk and express how peaceful it is as you bear your testimony in an informal way about where the spirits of the people are. If you are near a cemetery where your ancestors or their descendants may have been buried, go and visit their graves and talk about the things they did—and use the information from their headstones to fill out as much as you can on a family group sheet or a pedigree chart.
There are many areas, especially in the East, where the descendants of our ancestors, our distant cousins, did not have the chance to accept the gospel. If you live in a place where you are able to find these family members’ graves, go together with your children to look for the headstones. Your children can help you find those markers with the surnames you are looking for and record the information about the person. As they grow older, they can help find books, photocopy pages and look up names in the alphabetical listings of vital records. The main thing that an adult can do that an eight year old can’t do as effectively is reach books on high shelves, handle the handwritten books that are too big and bulky, and consider the implications of the information that is found!
Make it fun. Be enthusiastic. Be excited. Go on days when the weather will be comfortable. Don’t overstay their attention span. Plan an activity you know they will enjoy to do afterwards. Stop at a playground, a doughnut shop or a petting zoo. Plan a picnic or an hour or two at a skating rink near the town where you’ve researching. Invite a friend of theirs to go too. Change the activity so it is age appropriate—although there aren’t too many ages that won’t go for a doughnut. One summer I took a daughter with me cemeterying then stopped at the town’s impressive fabric store and let her choose material for a summer project. The project never got completely finished, but she enjoyed the time. Later the true rewards will become more evident, but until they are mature enough to understand and feel compensated for their effort—and it is effort—help them look forward to the activity by making sure they do have an enjoyable incentive.
Make the experience successful. The first time I took my daughters and their friend, I went to the cemetery beforehand and found graves of several of distant aunts and uncles. Knowing there were graves there and where they were located, I knew where to have the girls begin searching so they would find the graves before they got discouraged. We found those grave stones, then kept on going to find over a dozen more. The girls then spent an hour or so at the local playground while I sat watching them as I studied the information they’d copied.
One of the most rewarding parts of family history for your children may be the opportunity to share time with you. It is important that your child knows that he is more important to you than your family history work or even the ancestors whose work you are trying to do. Don’t make your child choose between going to a friend’s birthday party and going cemeterying. Don’t create feelings of guilty if a child doesn’t always want to go with you. Make an occasion out of your family history time together. Part of your love and enthusiasm for family history will rub off along with the memories of times your child enjoyed and together they’ll help establish a background so that your child is prepared to love family history and take over where you leave off.
Here is a note to remember about all activities you do with your children. Do things to build a desire to help with family history at an appropriate pace. Introduce it slowly like you would any type of learning program. Watch your children’s expressions to see when you are beginning to lose their attention and change topics or activities when that happens.
While trying to help a student or and adult to gain an appreciation for an activity, never do something that actually makes them dislike it. If you don’t light a fire in your child’s spirit the first time you try to help him enjoy family history, at least don’t soak the kindling with water so the flames will never catch.
For family history trips with children:
Prepare to make it successful.
Choose an appropriate time for everyone.
Don’t make the activity too long.
Make it fun. End with something enjoyable to all.
See ideas on Cemeterying in the list of topics for more information on how to read grave markers.