This is the fourth installment of my multi-part article on planning the perfect family reunion. In this series I take you through all the things you will need to know to pull off a rewarding and fun family reunion.
One of the greatest services we perform as genealogists is preserving our ancestors’ memories for future generations. Engaging children in the details of their ancestry can be a challenge, however. Short of designing a video game where ancestors become reanimated to hunt down killer zombies, it’s hard to imagine what we can do to compete with all the distractions and immediate gratifications kids have before them.
The family reunion, however, offers the perfect opportunity to engage the youngest of your family members in their history in a way that is both educational and entertaining. Here are a set of activities that are informative, enjoyable and can help strengthen bonds across generations for your next reunion or family event.
Fun and Games
What better way to connect with a child than through fun and games? Have each adult bring a beloved game or toy from his or her childhood. Ideally, no batteries or electricity required. From marbles to pick-up sticks and Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots to Battleship, the possibilities are endless.
Have the adult “gamer” demonstrate the game and play it with the kids. Organize a tournament if you can or hold a raffle where each kid wins one of the games to take home. Make sure you have enough games to go around.
Even the crotchetiest of crotchety old uncles were children once. And no matter how billy-goat gruff they may be now, even they have stories and books that they loved as children and remember fondly. Tap into that wellspring of nostalgia and ask adults to bring a favorite book from their childhood.
Organize a story time so that children can enjoy timeless tales like Little Golden Books, Winnie the Pooh, Curious George and beyond. As the adult reads the tale, sprinkling in some commentary about their own childhood is a sure way to connect with the young ones in the audience. As with the toys and games, a friendly raffle so that each kid can “inherit” a book with a personal message inscribed will create precious keepsakes.
Ancestor Mad Libs
Remember the countless hours whiled away in the back seat of the car on a family road trip playing Mad Libs? You can bring the same family friendly and easy entertainment to your next reunion. Simply take a short family story, remove key words and create a Mad Libs-style worksheet. The rest is up to the kids and if years of experience is any measure the results maybe silly and they may be goofy, but they will definitely be funny.
Family History Dance-Off
The kids already think the adults are from another planet, so why not prove it. Show them what passed for dancing 100, 50, even 20 years ago. The Turkey Trot, the Polka, the Charleston, the Lucky Lindy, even the Watusi and the Hustle. Imagine the fun showing kids these dances, prepping them and pitting them against each other in a good ‘ol fashion dance-off.
Keep the competition good-natured, with points for style, improvisation and good humor. And make a special effort to put these dances in context. It’s an entertaining way for kids to learn what life was like in eras as different as the roaring 20s and the turbulent 60s.
And remember, should they have too much fun at the “old timers” expense, just rest easy knowing the glee future generations will have making fun of the Sponge Bob and the Dougie, crimping and jerking and the other crazy moves that this generation calls dancing.
Imagine your nieces and nephews, adorned in costumes they made themselves, re-enacting an important piece of family lore. Organizing a family theater, with children as stage and costume designers, scriptwriters, and actors, is a sure way to fire their imagination and make learning about family history center stage.
At the beginning of your reunion, the play is “cast” and the troupe given its direction, with the big event occurring on the last evening so that the kids have time to prepare. An adult sponsor, essentially the director, can help guide the children and make sure they have the resources they need.
The trick is to keep things simple, and make sure that the children have the freedom to let their natural creativity take charge. A simple story line can start things off. For props and a set, a box of old clothes, scarves, hats along with construction paper and other arts supplies can be used to recreate practically any era.
Ask the actors to choose from a well-known family story—their great-grandparent’s decision to sell the farm and move to the big city; a great uncle’s travails in finding his way home after the Civil War; an aunt’s accomplishment of starting a successful business. That’s all it takes. Depending on the number of children at your reunion, you may have multiple “short and sweet” plays of 10 to 15 minutes each.
Stay tuned for Family Reunions – Part 5. Next time we will discuss the best way to wrap up your family reunion, be certain that you have gathered as much information as possible for your genealogical research, and make plans for your next family event.
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