So while you might geek out over the results of your home DNA test kit, you will most likely be met with indifference if you share them with your children. But take heart. You can get your kids to be interested in family history – you just need to present it in the right way. To that end, here are some tips for ancestry activities you can try that will get your kids excited to learn more about their past:
Make Ancestry About Living History
While you may think that it’s meaningful to look at a family tree, your kids will not. Children are more likely to want to engage with their ancestry if you find age-appropriate ways to make it seem powerful and alive.
In fact, a great place to start is with the living members of your family. During a holiday or weekend get together, have your children “interview” uncles or cousins to learn more about their extended familial backgrounds. Putting your family lineage in this context will bring it alive in a fun and interesting way.
When it comes to speaking about deceased family members, use your storytelling skills. Remember, before your family lineage was a genealogy tree, it was a series of events lived by actual human beings. Some classic ideas are to tell your kids about an amazing story that features a grandparent as the hero, or to share an anecdote about how a distant relative is a famous athlete, artist, or political figure.
No matter how engaging your storytelling skills may be, it can be difficult to hold the attention of children using only words. To combat a short attention span, try using props.
If you keep any heirlooms that used to belong to a deceased family member, let your child handle them while recounting an interesting or heartfelt anecdote about the deceased’s life. If none are available, you can also pull out photo albums and show your child pictures from holidays, vacations, or special occasions. Even if you tell stories completely unrelated to the photo, just having a visual image of the person will go a long way towards peaking a child’s interest and holding their attention.
Food is another excellent prop. If you have a special recipe handed down through the family, make it for your kids (for the best results, try using a dessert). While everyone is enjoying the meal, let them know this is something handed down to you from your parent/cousin/uncle and give some additional information about that person’s life. If the dish has a specific cultural origin, use it as an accessible way to introduce your kids to the foreign countries and cultures that their ancestors came from.
Make it a Family Activity
Children love to go on adventures. Exploring your lineage with them through field trips is another excellent way to encourage a meaningful experience.
If your family has lived in the same area for many generations, you can consider taking them to see the family’s gravestones at a local cemetery. Another excellent idea is to bring them to a musical concert or cultural festival celebrating the family’s place of origin. For Americans who had ancestors immigrate through Ellis Island, you can take a trip to the monument that memorializes every immigrant who was welcomed there, and have the children trace their ancestors’ names with a pencil and paper.