Early last Saturday morning, I got in my van alone and braved a rare Washington blizzard to pick up a few items from the grocery store. What I saw in the midst of the COVID-19 virus panic shocked me. At 5am, the parking lot was already full, the shopping carts were almost all being used, many of the shelves were bare, and the lines for check-out stretched to the back of the store!
As I maneuvered my cart through the crowds of people, and then stood in line for half an hour, I thought about my Grandma Loa whose routine grocery store trips were similarly changed with tragic world events. She lived in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. After that, she and her family lived under extreme rationing conditions as production and importing was so greatly interrupted. There was also an immense fear about a future attack. They evacuated Hawaii a year and a half later, because normal life was so impossible on the once-paradisal island.
Standing in that long line and thinking about Loa gave me courage to face the chaos. And the more I thought about her experience, the more I wanted my children to have a glimpse into our ancestor’s world of food shortages, hoarding, rationing, and careful planning.
I found some images of World War II ration card booklets and printed them out to make little booklets for my kids. We set up a little store with real food items in the room under our stairs. My kids then took turns buying goods and using their stamps. The activity turned a little crazy as the kids bargained for certain goods and tried to run away and hoard others. They even set up a black market under someone’s sleeping bag!
The most powerful moment was when my son came up to the store to buy oatmeal and I cut in and said, “You can’t buy that. You have reached your limit for the month.” He walked away truly disappointed. That gave him a small taste for the limits and frustrations of this time period. Learning about our incredible ancestors surviving troubled times gives us strength and perspective when our own lives are upturned.
Further Suggestions: To make your own version of this activity more interesting, you may want to find WWII ration recipes online that homemakers invented to use their limited goods in creative ways. You can also research and buy exactly what one person was allotted each week. It’s powerful to see that modest amount in front of you. Additionally, you could have a great-grandparent tell your children a story about living under those difficult conditions.
Find more fun and meaningful family history activities for kids in our book, Turning Little Hearts – Over 90 Activities to Connect Children with Their Ancestors, available at Cedar Fort Publishing as a paperback or a digital download. Also available on Amazon. Visitwww.turninglittlehearts.com
In a rare, quiet moment last Sunday, when my six little kids were off either wrestling or dressing-up, I took an ancestor’s biography off the shelf to see if I could find any neat stories for my next family history activity. I was blown away when I began reading about this ancestor, about whom I had previously known nothing. He was too amazing to highlight in just one, simple activity! I wanted to share all the neat things he had done, but if I just plopped my kids down and made them listen to a list of facts, I knew I’d lose them quickly.
How could I make learning about him more fun and engaging? My craft supply drawer is pretty pathetic, but I always have a few grocery paper bags on hand. My son drew a large cartoon man on an opened bag and cut it out, then further cut it into several pieces. I wrote various facts about him and accomplishments of his on all the body parts. Then, I prepared a bunch of masking tape rolls on the hearth and gathered the kids around. One-by-one, they came up, chose an over-turned body part, turned it over and read the fact on it, and taped it in its proper place on the wall.
It was a hit! It was engaging, because all the kids got turns choosing a piece and teaching all of us about the ancestor. It was informative, because I took a minute between each turn to further explain the fact. And it was fun, because everyone laughed as they tried to figure out where the pieces fit in the “body puzzle” on the wall. And afterwards, the kids giggled even more as they mixed up all the parts into a Picasso-esque piece of art.
1) If you have the supplies, you can make the body bigger and nicer than my simple paper bag. Perhaps your kids can help decorate the various body pieces with clothing scraps, buttons, glitter, or yarn before you write down the facts.
2) For older children, you can hand out individual paragraphs you prepared ahead of time with each fact explained on it. The child can read it, summarize it, and write it on the body part themselves. When it’s time to assemble to body parts on the wall together, each child can share what they wrote and as they put the piece in its proper place.
Find more fun and meaningful family history activities for kids in our book, Turning Little Hearts – Over 90 Activities to Connect Children with Their Ancestors, available at Cedar Fort Publishing as a paperback or a digital download. Also available on Amazon. Visit www.turninglittlehearts.com
We hosted a booth at Rootstech in Salt Lake this year to promote our book and its fun ideas. It was our first time ever attending the world’s largest family history and genealogy conference, and it was amazing! There were over 25,000 people from all over the country gathered in one building to rejoice over our favorite topic. There were famous experts, enthusiastic bloggers, giddy grandparents, and wide-eyed newbies (just like us).
We transformed our empty black booth into a colorful stopping place for attendees. On the first night, we were swamped with youth groups posing at our ancestor-themed photo booth. For the next three days, we were gabbing and selling at the booth non-stop. This book is the first of its kind and people were excited! Young parents were happy to have family history activities to do WITH their children. Grandparents were thrilled to get gifts for their grandchildren. Family history consultants, youth leaders, and primary teachers were looking forward to using the activities with their respective groups. Our favorite people were the ones who bought a book one day, and then came back the next day saying, “I took a good look through the book last night, and I had to come back to buy more to share!”
Before the conference began, we dropped by our publisher’s office in Springville and finally met all the amazing people we’ve been calling and emailing for over a year. Cedar Fort’s CEO, Bryce Mortimer, said that his mission with this company is to change lives, and he and his staff work so hard to do that. It feels great to be a part of this team.
We stopped by Seagull Book and found Turning Little Hearts on the shelf! Seeing our book squashed in between famous authors whose books we know and love was amazing.
Wish you had been there at Rootstech? Watch these short videos of us at the booth.
RootsTech–the world’s largest family history conference–is next week in Salt Lake City! Jonah and I will be there as exhibitors with a very fun booth. Stop by if you are in the area! Our booth will have ideas for family history activities with children, a photo booth with funny family history props, lots of candy, some buttons and ribbons, and copies of our book for sale.
Here is a close up of some of our family’s activities we will have on display.
Here is a sample of the props available for use with our photo booth
Here is some of the heart-shaped candy we are giving away
We will have 100 name tag stickers for our most enthusiastic fans
And we will have copies of our book for sale
Stop by our booth and stay a while. We’d love to meet you and hear about your experiences with this book and your family.
I want to share with you an incredible parenting tool that we stumbled upon back when we lived in Arizona. Those summers were unbelievable: you go to a covered park at 8am (right before it reaches 100 degrees) trying to “get your kids’ wiggles out”, but they aren’t even wiggly yet! Come 3:00, you’ve played all your indoor games, you’ve read all your books, you’ve swam in your pool twice, and you are already on Zillow, desperately scrolling through houses for sale in Antarctica. Spoiler alert: there aren’t many listings down there.
During one of those inescapably scorching summers, my husband and I read a fascinating article entitled, “The Stories That Bind Us” (Bruce Feiler, New York Times, March 15, 2013). This article explained new research showing that children who knew their family stories were more resilient and performed better on every psychological test the researcher administered. Wow! I had studied psychology in college, so this finding was especially fascinating to me. Could simply sharing our family history stories really strengthen my children as much as this article promised? I decided to give it a try. Plus, I was desperate to do something to enrich our time as we were trapped in our air conditioned mid-summer bunker!
My experiment began simple. Each Sunday afternoon I told my three little boys about an ancestors with a pretty unique story. With crayons, they scribbled the stories on blank paper. I added a caption, then we put the stories in a binder to enjoy. Over the course of the summer, I added a few more family history activities to the mix—playing memory and Bingo, telling ancestor bedtime stories, making old recipes, etc. While my husband and I didn’t see huge benefits immediately, we had faith that making our ancestors come alive to our children would eventually have the desired results.
A while later, our oldest son showed us a great result of our efforts. His class was doing a “Be the Teacher” segment, and he had the option of teaching his fellow third graders a topic. Some of his classmates chose to teach about origami or chess, but Samuel immediately chose to share the story of his great-grandfather who was a fighter pilot in World War 2. About this, Samuel wrote, “I feel special when I hear stories of my ancestors doing amazing things and think Merrill’s story is really amazing. Him doing brave things makes me want to, too!”
It worked! Sharing our family stories was working! I realized I needed to share with other parents how amazing this was, so I brainstormed 100 more activities to share family stories in fun, interactive, and meaningful ways. A publisher saw my ideas and wanted to turn them into a book. One year later, the book is here and I am spreading the great news that sharing your family stories really helps kids! Learning about their ancestors helps children gain the sense of belonging that they deeply desire, but sometimes struggle to find in the outside world.
This book is called “Turning Little Hearts—Over 90 Activities to Connect Children with their Ancestors”. It is packed with fun activities such as treasure hunts, playing games, dressing up, fort building, picture coloring, language learning, jewelry making, puzzle solving, flower planting, birthday celebrating, map making, poem writing, and more. Each activity begins with the parent or grandparent telling a brief story about themselves or an ancestor, then doing an activity with the child to reinforce and make the story real.
We have had so many great family moments with these activities. Last month, my children dressed in my dad’s old clothes and acted like professors, because that’s what my dad was. They wagged a long pointer at their siblings and taught us about my father’s favorite buildings. Not only did we laugh like crazy, but we learned about my late father and came to love what he loved. When my son commented about one particularly unique building we drove by, I knew that that activity had sunk in!
Not only have our kids been strengthened by these activities, but I have been enriched by them as well. My grandmother, who passed away when I was too young to remember her, sang a beautiful lullaby to her children. With the help of my uncle and an old recording I found, I’ve reconstructed the music she wrote and now I can sing it to my own kids. Did I do it for them? Yes. But does it bless me, too? Absolutely yes! As I sing it, I feel closer to my grandmother. I feel like I am not alone in the difficult task of raising little ones. She did it. Her mother did it. I can do it, too. Just like my kids are drawing strength and identity from these stories, I am too!
This book is perfect for anyone who already loves family history and is looking for fun ways to share stories with young people. Grandparents—do these activities with your grandkids when they visit! Parents—do these activities at dinnertime or on a Sunday afternoon with your kids! Additionally, this book is perfect for families who currently know little about their ancestors, but who are looking for good activities to do with their kids. Activities with an ancestor twist are far more meaningful than what you find while simply searching for “fun stuff to do with kids” on Pinterest.
I believe that making our ancestors come alive to our children has power. They will feel they are part of something bigger. They will feel secure when their own life gets crazy and when bad things happen in the world. They will feel confident that they can succeed. As grandparents and parents, we can tap into the power of family stories. I know our children can be better when they remember who they are… no matter how hot it is outside.
I want to tell you about a book that changed our lives: The Opportunity, by Joel Ackerman. Its inspiring message helped us seize an opportunity that was sailing away from us. If it weren’t for his book, Turning Little Hearts may never have happened!
When we first heard about The Opportunity, Jonah and I had just made many huge life changes–we had bought a wholesale bakery, we had moved to a different state, we had a new baby (our sixth!), and we were settling down in our “forever” home. Buried underneath all these changes, was a dusty email from a publisher who had expressed interest in a book we had submitted more than a year before.
While the publisher had no interest in the first 99% of our book about why and how family stories were powerful, they were curious to see an expansion of the last 1% of the book–a list of 10 activities that families could do to engage children in learning their family stories.
That dusty email had been exciting, yet disheartening when we had first received it. Yay! They like…part…of the book…! But we worked so hard on that… And how could we ever think of enough activities to fill an entire book???? With those thoughts and feelings, we let the email sink to the bottom of our inbox without response.
Over the next year, we occasionally thought about that email, but as more time passed, it became easier to just brush it off as impossible. Until we saw Joel’s book. The cover had a marvelous ship at sea on it. The opening line was “A boy in a tree looked out at the sea”. And the message was Don’t let self-doubt or any other excuse let opportunities sail away from you! I immediately thought of our email from the publisher. Yikes! We were letting this opportunity sail away from us without even trying!
After we put the kids down to bed that night, we prayed for inspiration and began brainstorming enough kid-friendly family history activities to fill a book. To our total surprise, a couple hours later, we had about 100 ideas scribbled down. In the next couple weeks, we spent many late nights sketching out the page designs and text on white paper to give an idea of what the format should be. We submitted those pages hoping that the publisher 1) would even remember us, and 2) that they would see potential in our sketches.
You know how the story ends. If you need a boost to strive for your dreams, The Opportunity is it!
Here is the website to purchase the book The Opportunity(Click here)
Here is a great video with interviews of people who have read it (Click here)
I had the opportunity recently to speak to a group of MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers). I love these women! These are mothers in the trenches right now! They are always the targets of parenting books, millions of parenting books. I’m not an expert on parenting, but I FOUND A SECRET WEAPON! Family stories!
Family stories are the best kept secret of parenting and I just had to share it with these wonderful women! The video below is only 5 minutes, but it’s a good synopsis. Give it a watch and share!
In order to try and get our kids learning a little about work (and because we just really like the little birds), we have over 20 chickens in our backyard in a small coop and run. It’s kinda crazy.
But the part that makes it meaningful is that Charlotte’s grandfather also owned a tiny chicken farm when he was a kid. Great-Grandpa Frank tended his birds and sold eggs around the neighborhood. In order to feed his flock, he dried grass clippings out on the tin roof of the shed. This impromptu feed kept the chickens alive through the winters of the Great Depression.
When our 9-year-old hears that his great-grandfather was also 9 when he tended his birds, it brings the past to the present. Our son feels a certain context around his life. This context, researchers believe, build a greater sense of emotional stability.
So our kids don’t just think, “We are kinda different because we have a tiny chicken farm.” They think, “Our family is just this way, it’s who we are, we do this because we always have.” Instead of ” Mom makes me do this,” they think, “I am keeping up with my ancestors. I am part of a chain.” Tending the birds becomes almost a kind of family honor, rather than an annoying chore. At least … we hope so!
It might not be much, but we think tying their chores to a family story gives it more meaning.
Alright, this is really happening! Cedar Fort Publishers has agreed to publish “Turning Little Hearts: 80 Activities to Connect Children with their Ancestors” in January 2020! Deseret and Seagull books will also carry the book on their shelves!
We are very excited! We just hope more people are reached by this book. We want more children finding identity in their family and more parents connecting with their children!
Explaining careers can be hard. But dress-up helps!
We told out children that their grandfather (now deceased) was a professor of architecture. That made about as much sense as eating vegetables…
So we added some funny clothes and a pointer …
The details are less important, but the point is: our children got to pretend to be a professor like their grandfather was. Most of the activity was just fun-fun-fun, with just a little pinch of real ancestry. Now they remember who he was, what he did and a little bit of what his personality was like.
Inter-generational stories like this can have lasting impacts. In light of their grandfather’s life, they may start to view their own lives differently. Turning Little Hearts really works! And it’s fun!