22 writing prompts that jog childhood memories

by | May 23, 2018 | Writing & Journal Prompts

22 writing prompts about childhood memories | As vivid as a moment seems at the time, memories fade. These prompts will help jog them!

My childhood memories are rich and varied.

I loved visiting my grandma’s apartment, with its fringed window shades and faint smell of eucalyptus. Her desk drawers, lined in green felt, spilled over with card decks, cocktail napkins, and golf tees. Every door in the house was fitted with wobbly crystal doorknobs. The bathroom smelled of Listerine.

My brother and I would sleep in the small bedroom off the kitchen—the very room our mom shared with her own brother growing up in the north side of Chicago.

I can picture myself reaching way down into Grandma’s frost-filled chest freezer for the ever-present box of Eskimo Pies. Her well-stocked pantry and doily-covered tabletops contained loads of delectable treats I was often denied at home: pastries, chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, and delicate bowls of jellied orange sticks and other candy.

This was the 1960s, long before big-box stores came on the scene. Together Grandma and I would walk to the corner of Roscoe and Broadway, where we’d explore the wonders of Simon’s Drugstore, Heinemann’s Bakery, and Martha’s Candies.

Those childhood memories of my grandma are largely synonymous with food.

In my mind’s eye, I can still picture driving from Illinois to Wisconsin beneath a canopy of crimson leaves against an blindingly blue sky. I remember Passover dinners with a million Jewish relatives in the basement of some wizened old uncle’s apartment building.

Other childhood memories recall the mysteries of new baby brothers coming on the scene, building a hideout among the branches of a fallen tree, and giving my best friend’s parakeet a ride down the stairs in her aqua Barbie convertible.

It’s good to write down our recollections. As vivid as the moment seems at the time, memories fade. These prompts will help jog them. This can be a great homeschool writing activity! Invite your older children to participate. They’re in closer proximity to their memories, and can usually remember the details more vividly.

There are no rules: Jot your thoughts in snippets or write them out diary-style. Either way, do your best to recall the sensory details that made the moment important, for it’s those little things that keep the memory alive.

Writing Prompts about Childhood Memories

  1. Who was your best childhood friend? Write about some of the fun things you used to do together.
  2. Describe one of your earliest childhood memories. How old were you? What bits and pieces can you recall?
  3. When you were little, did you ever try to run away from home? What made you want to leave? What did you pack? How far did you get?
  4. Can you remember your mom’s or grandmother’s kitchen? Use sight and smell words to describe it.
  5. Describe the most unusual or memorable place you have lived.
  6. Did you have your own bedroom growing up, or did you share with a sibling? Describe your room.
  7. Were you shy as a child? Bossy? Obnoxious? Describe several of your childhood character traits. How did those qualities show themselves? Are you still that way today?
  8. What childhood memories of your mother and father do you have? Describe a couple of snapshot moments.
  9. Write about a holiday memory. Where did you go? What did you do? What foods do you remember?
  10. Describe your favorite hideaway.
  11. Did you attend a traditional school, or were you homeschooled? Describe a school-related memory.
  12. Think of a time when you did something you shouldn’t have done. Describe both the incident and the feelings they created.
  13. Have you ever needed stitches, broken a bone, or been hospitalized? Describe a childhood injury or illness.
  14. Do you have quirky or interesting relatives on your family tree? Describe one or two of them.
  15. Describe your most memorable family vacation. Where did you go? Did something exciting or unusual happen? Did you eat new or unique foods?
  16. Books can be childhood friends. What were some of your favorites? Why were they special?
  17. Did you grow up with family traditions? Describe one.
  18. Describe a game or activity you used to play with a sibling.
  19. What was your most beloved toy? Describe its shape, appearance, and texture. What feelings come to mind when you think of that toy?
  20. Think of a childhood event that made you feel anxious or scared. Describe both the event itself and the feelings it stirred up.
  21. Write about some sayings, expressions, or advice you heard at home when you were growing up. Who said them? What did they mean? Do you use any of those expressions today?
  22. What are your happiest childhood memories? Describe one event and the feelings associated with it.

I hope you’ll get much use out of these writing prompts about childhood memories. What’s one of your most vivid childhood memories? Share a snippet in the comments!

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34 Comments

  1. Julie

    Hey Kim,
    This post is perfect timing for me! The Mosaic Reviews team is in the process of reviewing a new app called Saving Memories Forever. (It’s an app that allows you to interview and record family stories.) Would you mind if I include a link to this post on my review? These are great ideas to incorporate into a collection of family stories.

    Reply
  2. Kim

    Absolutely, Julie! Link away! {and what a fantastic idea for an app}

    Reply
  3. Tara Jenner

    I was born in September 1962. My earliest memory was when the TV was on and they were crying. At the time I thought they were crying because of my ear ache since I was hurting and crying. I remember that the TV was Black and White and there was a little boy saluting a big thing covered in an American flag. It was JFK’s funeral!

    For years my mother thought that I was just remembering photos I saw from Time magazine of the funeral, but one day I was telling her about it and described the floor plan of the house. Needless to say she was floored, as we moved from that house not long thereafter never to return! So I guess I was just under 1 year and 2 months old.

    Reply
    • Kim

      Wow, that’s pretty incredible, Tara! I remember JFK’s assassination clearly, too. I was 9, though, so the memory is probably sharper. But I don’t think I have any memories of my childhood before age 3 or 4.

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth Knaus

    There were eight in our family. Nine if you count Grandma who was with us on weekends for church. The earliest memory I have was walking underneath the duncan phyfe dining room table and hitting my head on one of the corners from spaces created when the extra leaves are used. Considering the height of a table, this would have been 1962 when I was about one year old according to the average height for that age. From then on, I began to pay more attention to everything. Unfortunately it doesn’t all stick (fortunately, in some cases)!

    Reply
  5. Twitch

    i am doing a school paper and this helped me alot thanks

    Reply
  6. Kim

    Glad to hear it, Twitch!

    Reply
  7. Rebecca

    I recently discovered your post and it inspired me to pick up a journal I’ve had for a few years. It is for my daughter. I’ve written quite a bit, but this gives me some new material to include.

    Also, you might enjoy this story. Several years ago, I gave my grandmother an empty scrapbook for Christmas. Inside was a note asking that she write down stories and memories from her life. I included a list of questions to get her started. And I requested that she return it to me the next year for Christmas.

    She had talked of writing things down for years, but had never taken the time. My request gave her the excuse she needed. And the following year I received the best Christmas present ever – after the gift of our Lord, of course. She had included some pictures and poems in addition to answering my questions. Even now, I discover little tidbits of information that I missed in my first few readings.

    It was only a few years later that she developed Parkinson’s disease, lost her memory, and passed away. My family has made several copies of that book, written in her own, beautiful handwriting. It is truly a family treasure.

    Reply
  8. Kim Kautzer

    This is beautiful, Rebecca. We can never go back and reclaim those stories. What a blessing that the Lord prompted you to give your grandmother the journal and questions. You will indeed treasure that book forever!

    Reply
    • Kathrin Huard

      Rebecca,
      Your story brought me to tears, the treasure that you possess is indeed a God scent.

      Reply
  9. Kerry Kuss

    I am new to journaling so this advice is precious. I started writing small family stories to a niece, to keep in touch. I enjoyed it so much, and I was surprised what memories that drew out. Now I think keeping a journal, might jog more memory, and also record some stories that the younger generation might enjoy, now and later. My most treasured memory is visiting an aunt, feeling I was always safe there. It’s probably the only memory that I can describe in feelings, and all my senses. I think your prompts are going to save even more memories. i thank you!

    Reply
  10. Kim Kautzer

    Kerry: I’m so excited that you’re dipping your toe in the waters of journaling. I love that you’re able to capture those sweet memories of your aunt with feelings. Hoping some of the other prompts will help jog even more. Happy writing!

    Reply
  11. Jen White

    Reading your list and comments from others reminded me that my mother made some notes of family things she remembered and wanted me to have (she was about 88 at the time.) Because of this article, I will look for it! I’m sure it’s in my files somewhere. I hadn’t thought of it despite my years of doing family research! Must find! Thanks! (Am also copying your list of questions into my Evernote file to prompt further thoughts!)

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Happy to be a catalyst, Jen! I hope you find your mom’s notes. What a treasure that will be!

      Reply
  12. jessica

    i’m looking forward to using your 21 ‘writing prompts’ guide. i’m a working mom and a wife with busy all around and love to read and write…most days the story or journal entry is logged in my head. part of my problem is i have all these cute little journals and i’m stuck with what story goes in what journal? silly. any thoughts? 🙂

    Reply
  13. Kim Kautzer

    Jessica: I’d be overwhelmed by too many journals, cute as they are! If it were me, I might have one journal to record old family stories and memories and a separate one for current journaling.

    Beyond that, you might enjoy keeping a journal for each of your children in which you write letters to them from time to time (monthly? on their birthdays? randomly?). Or, it could be a journal in which you write back and forth to each other. Here are two suggestions for how to do that:

    Becoming Your Child’s Pen Pal

    Conversation Journals

    Thanks for visiting!

    Reply
  14. Jim Brown

    Kim- these are absolutely fantastic. I’m starting to work on a childhood memory campaign at ScanDigital as a way to capture all the stories of our customers in both written form and photos. You gave me a lot of excellent prompts!

    Reply
  15. Carol Cochran

    Hi Kim, I so happy to have found you and you list of journaling prompts. I was born in CA in November of 1951, the third daughter of six to parents who didn’t stay married very long. My earliest memory is of a birthday celebration at our house where there was cake and balloons and a little habatchi type bbq on the lawn of the front yard. I don’t remember anyone bbqing but I remember balloons floating down and popping on the hot metal. My mother used to think I was repeating something I heard from another family member, because I was surely too young at one or two to remember back so far. When I described things about our house, like the swinging door to the kitchen with the little round window and my dad popping up from the bottom of a cupboard and asking mother for a rag, she was finally convinced that the memory really was my own. I have great hopes for motivation through your prompts to finally get some things written down to my satisfaction. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      What a wonderful story, Carol! I too have those snippets of memory, like finding Easter candy in the ivy months after Easter, my fascination with the cigarette machine in my grandfather’s restaurant in the early 1960s, and the entire layout of our house in Mexico City, where I lived from the ages of 2-6. Memory is a beautiful and fleeting thing, and we really do need to get these thoughts committed to paper!

      Reply
  16. Sharon Keanly

    Hi Kim, I am busy writing stories of my childhood, young adulthood and basically whatever else is happening in our everyday lives right now for my daughter, who is an only child, to read in her later years. So pleased I found your blog, as these topics are just perfect for me. They have brought back so many recollections of my childhood. You know how you have all these memories in your head, but you just don’t know where to start? It can become very overwhelming. Your list has provided me with a starting point. I can’t wait to put pen to paper. Thank you. Greetings from South Africa.

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Wonderful, Sharon! Your comment = my daily dose of smiles!

      Reply
  17. Denise Flattery

    These pieces are giving some great ideas to write a short story on my favorite family memory of them all.

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Glad you enjoyed the list, Denise. Happy writing!

      Reply
  18. Cheri

    I have always loved family history and stories, (I started to copy family records when I was 10); consequently, I have many notes from conversations I have had with relatives. I also tell family stories to my grandchildren. I find that lately, especially since losing my mother two years ago, just remembering my childhood and happy times doesn’t seem like enough. I have a workbook that I made where I just use words for prompts, (it’s amazing how many memories simple words like door, table, lock, etc. draw out.) I am 58 and have been wanting to write my memories down for a long time, not just for my family, but for me to enjoy looking over. The trouble is, I seem to find it more and more difficult to find the time, energy and focus. Any suggestions?

    (Sorry, don’t intend to take up your time. Just saw this webpage and thought I’d throw a dilemma out there. I work in a library and we are thinking of re-starting a writing group, but before that I could use some input.)

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      I’m in the same boat, Cheri—lack of time, energy, focus—and worse, the fading of all the “I’ll never forget this moment” memories I never wrote down. I love your idea of keeping an idea notebook with keywords to trigger memories. I think writing down snapshot impressions is better than waiting for the “perfect time” to write a lengthy recollection—because, as we’ve learned, that perfect time is pretty elusive! But if we keep a running journal of little memories, at least we have something to remember the moment. And, of course, it can become a springboard for writing a longer, more detailed journal entry at another time! Best of luck with your writing group—and your personal journaling!

      Reply
      • Chris

        My idea is to write two or three page stories one at a time. After a while I will have enough to maybe fill a book.

        Reply
        • Kim Kautzer

          That’s a fabulous idea. I wish you all the best in your memory-capturing endeavors, Chris!

          Reply
  19. Lucie

    Unfortunately I remember very little of my childhood – I’m not sure why. My huby can remember back when he was two , whereas I seem to have no recollection before 8 (when we moved house). I can remember one school yard memory, that’s about it. Hope this exercise will help! It saddens me to have ‘lost’ those years!

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Oh, Lucie! I do hope this helps you capture some early memories. Do you have any relatives you can talk to who can tell you stories from your childhood

      Reply
  20. Lucie

    Just read a typo in my message, I meant *hubby. Anyway what a good idea! Thank you for replying Kim 🙂 I’ll let you know how it goes!

    Reply
  21. Ali

    Hi Kim , I came a cross your post as I am currently working on writing my childhood memories in the form of short stories . They are many memories I wanted to share with my family , friends , and the world .

    Now my question is what makes the world read my childhood memories ? I understand that the family and friends have a reason to read it but what about the world ? Why would someone strange read it ?

    Reply
    • Kim Kautzer

      Interesting question, Ali!

      Typically, we write our memoirs as a legacy for our family and loved ones. You have your own story to tell—the adventures and experiences that have shaped or impacted you. But honestly, unless you’re a famous person, I’m hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why most folks outside your circle would be interested in reading about those childhood memories. Instead, I suggest you write just for yourself and for those you love, because they’re the ones who will appreciate it the most.

      Reply

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