Way Back When

by Tania Cowling

Grandparents are our heritage and are essential members of our families and communities. That is why a special day, National Grandparents Day, is set aside every year to honor them. Grandparents Day is celebrated on the first Sunday after Labor Day in September. Grandparents Day was declared a holiday in the United States by Congress in 1978. President Jimmy Carter signed the congressional proclamation. The idea of Grandparents Day began in 1970, when Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade started a campaign to designate a special day to celebrate grandparents.

Children are naturally curious about themselves and often ask questions about their parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods. Were they the same or different than us? It’s sometime hard for a child to envision a grandparent as a kid, but stories about life, “way back when” help them connect to the family.

You can help your child understand their own unique background or heritage by bonding and doing these activities together as a whole family.

On a World or United States map, place a sticker on each town or country where your ancestors lived. Check out a video from the library to view your ancestor’s homeland.

Bring out the box of pictures and spend a day looking at ancestors. Grandparents can find photos when they were young. Help children identify older people in the photographs and explain their relationship to the family.

Older children might enjoy learning their ancestral language. Start out with a few common words. There are books and tapes available at most public libraries or bookstores that can teach the basics of other languages.

Bring out cultural memorabilia, such as dolls, toys, plates, etc. for your kids to view. Try making a cultural craft from your country.

Try these activities to enhance family bonding and to make precious gifts for the grandparents.

Family Interview

Today, with email or the telephone, this interview activity can be done with grandparents whether local or far away! You’ll need paper and a pen. A tape or video recorder are optional.

Make a list of questions for children to ask. Here are some suggestions:

• When you were young, what toys or games did you play with?
• When you were a child, did you have any pets?   
• What did the pets look like?
• When you were young, who were the most important people in your life?
• When you were a child, where did you live? With whom did you live?
• What is your favorite story?
• Do you collect anything?
• What would you like to learn how to do?
• Do you play an instrument?
• Who’s your best friend?
• Did you go anywhere special for a vacation?
• What do you like to do for fun?

My Family Collage

Bring out the box of photos again, and let your kids make a family photo collage! You’ll need photocopies of photos, glue, markers, and colored construction paper.

To make a collage on a posterboard, use shapes of colored construction paper to frame and back the pictures. To make a photo block, cover a box with the construction paper before gluing on photos. To make a fun gift, use a coffee can! Cover the can with colorful construction paper then glue on the photos. Fill the can with baked cookies or candy and present this gift to the grandparents!

During the project, help your child identify each person in the photos. You can use old photos from the past and incorporate newer ones as well. What a great genealogy lesson!

My Family Cookbook

Create a special, personal cookbook with your child that will bring back fond memories every time you use it. You’ll need paper, construction paper, crayons or markers, and a stapler. A camera is optional.

Copy or type your favorite family recipes onto paper, then back with construction paper. Invite your child to illustrate each recipe.

Take pictures as you make these recipes together. You can snap a photo of the dishes before you serve, of the people enjoying them, or of your child as chef. Place these on the corresponding pages inside your cookbook. Staple the pages together with construction paper on top. Help your child write title the cookbook, write your names, and the date. For holidays or special occasions (like Grandparents Day), make several copies of this cookbook to give to family members and friends. 

Family Portraits

You’ll need white paper plates, crayons, markers, yarn, fabric, buttons, googly eyes, and other craft items you may have at home.

Young children love to draw pictures and the use of paper plates is always fun. Have the children look at themselves in a mirror and tell them to create their face on the paper plate with a crayon or marker. Enhance the drawing by gluing on collage materials. This is a really simple project that is so much fun. Continue to make more plates to resemble other members of the family.

A Photo Frame From Nature

While taking a walk together, gather twigs to make a simple, but rustic picture frame. You’ll need twigs, string, a photo to frame, hot glue gun, and hot glue (with adult supervision!)

On your walk, collect two bunches of twigs. The first bunch should be 6 to 8 twigs that are about 2 inches longer than your photo. The second bunch should be 6 to 8 twigs that are about 2 inches wider than your photo. Arrange the twigs so they surround the picture and extend outward about an inch in each direction. Tie the twigs at each corner using string to make an “X” pattern. Glue the picture onto the back of your twig frame. Tie a small loop of string to the top bunch of twigs to hang the finished portrait.

Making a Map

Draw a map showing how to get from your house to your grandparents’ house. If you’re lucky to have grandparents that live close by, you can draw an easy map on a sheet of construction paper. If grandparents live far away, change your style of drawing to a map of the states. Include landmarks between the two houses and color with crayons and markers. Then use plastic toy cars to drive along the roads on your map!

My Grandmother’s Trunk

This is an old game that’s fun to play with the family—especially when grandparents are visiting. Have the family sit together and start with the phrase, “My grandmother went on a trip, and in her trunk she packed a green apple.” Have the player on the right repeat this phrase and add another object using a color and an item, “My grandmother went on a trip, and in her trunk she packed a green apple and a _____.”

See how long the chain of items can be remembered and repeated!

Creative Cards

It’s customary to send greeting cards to relatives to celebrate holidays. Making such cards offers kids an opportunity to do something thoughtful for others.

Use some of these art techniques for making cards: Fingerpainting, collage, block printing, crayon rubs, splatter painting,string painting,crayon resist, or chalk on wet paper. For the message inside, children might convey their thoughts and feelings toward their grandparents. For young children, have them dictate their thoughts and an adult can do the printing.

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