Let’s write family stories!

 writing family stories, writing your family history

SUMMER IS a time of family get-togethers. After graduations and Father’s Day, we look forward to barbecues, beach days, and birthday parties. From camping trips with the cousins to week-long visits with grandparents, your kids will find plenty of opportunities to ask relatives about their childhoods and life experiences. Now is the perfect time to start writing family stories down!

Most kids don’t have the desire (or stamina!) to compile a thick notebook of family history. Instead, try these three strategies to gather a few gold nuggets of Grandma’s storytelling—without overtiring your young writers!

Questions and Answers

Before a family gathering, ask your child to write down five to ten questions for an uncle, aunt, or grandparent. Tote this list to the gathering on a clipboard or in a notebook so your child can easily record the family member’s answers in person.

For added fun, make it a group activity!

  • Pair off participants, assigning one older family member to a younger one.
  • Supply younger members with a list of questions and let the interviews begin!

Questions can be silly or serious, long or short. When writing family stories, the most important thing is to write down a relative’s thoughts and memories now, before time and distance present too many challenges.

Questions could include:

  • Where were you born?
  • What did you do for fun as a child?
  • When did you get your first car?
  • Can you describe your favorite jobs over the years?
  • How did you meet your husband or wife?

These childhood memories writing prompts will give you even more ideas.

Ready, Set, Record

If your family is fortunate enough to enjoy an extended visit with an older relative this summer, don’t lose this golden opportunity! Using any digital recorder (perhaps your phone or iPod), record their voice as they reminisce about the “good old days.” Later, ask your child to transcribe (listen to and write down) one or two paragraphs from the recording. This is an excellent way for your child to learn about inserting punctuation and deleting “filler” words such as um, uh, and hmm.

If your interviewee runs short of things to talk about, try prompting them with questions like these:

  • How was the world different when you were a child / young adult / college student?
  • What was it like growing up on the farm / in Italy / in a house with eight siblings?
  • Are there things in your life that you wish you’ d done differently?

Tell Me a Story

Have you ever told your children a story about your early life? Has anyone ever written this story down? Stories are a powerful way to link generations, understand world history, and pass down moral truths. This summer, make time to tell your child a story, and ask her to write it down. She doesn’t need to write more than a paragraph; just make sure it includes a beginning, middle, and end.

Kids want to hear all kinds of stories from Mom and Dad:

  • Tell me about your first trip on an airplane / bus / train.
  • Were you ever punished for something you did wrong? Were you ever punished for something you didn’t do?
  • Tell me about the first time you were home alone / spent a night away from home.
  • Why do you believe in God?

I hope you and your family enjoy drawing closer through stories this summer. Remind your children that writing family stories can keep the voices of loved ones alive . . . for years and years and years to come.

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

Photo: Diane Gregg, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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