18 March 2010 10:48 AM

Kids Interviewing Grandparents

by Dr. Rick

Regular readers of the Dr. Rick Blog know that I advocate for kids to interview their older relatives.  It’s a family-friendly way to encourage conversation between youngsters and oldsters, for youngsters to learn about their family’s history, for oldsters to connect to youngsters, and for the whole family to share memories.  It can motivate reading, spur new interests, and allow kids to discover new family relationships.


For the older relatives, it can jog memories, make them feel relevant, valued, and needed, and activate energy.  Any time we can encourage young people and old people to connect, it’s beneficial.


I notice so many kids who have no idea about their families’ pasts.  No idea about their heritage, cultures, geographic roots, or relatives’ accomplishments, religions, and fascinating stories.  That’s too bad.  Roots create stability, pride, and a sense of belonging.  If it’s possible to share roots with your children, why not do so?


Here are some suggestions about creating family histories, followed by suggested questions your children can ask of their older relatives.

  1. Make it possible.  Create the right environment for your kids to learn about their family’s past.  That means you should speak freely about your own memories, especially the warm and happy ones.  When the kids are older, they can handle troubling or controversial ones, if there are any, but for now, focus on the warmer ones.  Remember, you’re building family cohesion here.

  2. Include older relatives as often as possible.  Give your kids the gift of memories of their grandparents and older uncles and aunts.  If it’s possible, include them in family gatherings whenever possible.  Ask them about their memories, and encourage them to talk about their experiences.  Have the kids think ahead of time about the kinds of questions they want to ask, help them phrase the questions, then let them ask the questions.  It’s nice if you can prepare the oldsters ahead of time.  (“Jeremy has some questions he wants to ask you about your days at the steel mill.  He’s very interested in careers right now.”)

  3. Break out the photo albums.  Or the old videos or 8-milimeter films or slides or faded Polaroid prints.  Nothing triggers memories like old pictures, and sharing them among the generations is a wonderful bonding experience.  Encourage everyone to add to the conversation.

  4. Break out the scrapbooks.  Most families have scrapbooks or boxes of family memorabilia, some more organized than others.  Examine the old high school diplomas, marriage licenses, baptismal certificates, funeral prayer cards, 4-H ribbons, athletic letters, bowling trophies, amateur watercolors, rock cassettes (“What was I thinking?”), and other artifacts that bring memories to life.  Each one has a story attached to it.  Enjoy the re-telling and enable your children to be active participants.  Encourage your kids to begin their own scrapbooks and to write about family in their journals.

  5. Capture the moment.  When older relatives are sharing stories, capture the moment on video.  Include shots of the kids asking questions, of Granddad telling about Christmases in his youth, of Uncle Jack regaling the family about his days as an actor, of Aunt Sarah’s fashion designing career.  Email these videos to absent cousins and relatives.  They’ll love the surprise.  These videos will become cherished possessions and family heirlooms.

  6. “What was Christmas/Hanukah like in your family when you were young?”  Tell us about your favorite gift.  Favorite foods and treats of the season.  Did you go to church or temple?  What was that like? 

  7. “What was school like?”  Where did you go to elementary school?  What was the building like?  The teachers?  Who was your favorite teacher?  Why?  Who were your best friends?  What did you all do in your spare time?  Did you play sports?  A musical instrument?  What was the cafeteria like?  The rest rooms? 

  8. “What were your favorite holidays?”  Did you go trick-or-treating on Halloween?  What kind of treats did you get?  What about the Fourth of July?  Lots of fireworks? 

  9. “Tell us about the neighborhood.”  What were the houses like?  Did you have outhouses?  Who were your favorite neighbors?  Were there bullies?  Who were your friends?  Did the neighbors help each other out when necessary, like during snowstorms?  Where did you shop?  What were your favorite stores?  Talk about the prices.

  10. “Tell us about your parents and grandparents.”  Do you remember your grandparents?  Where did they come from?  Did they live near you?  What can you tell us about them?

The questions are endless and unique to each family.  Tell us about your family’s memories by clicking on Comments below.  We’d love to hear about them.




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