How Does Your Family Tree Grow?

Last Saturday I sat with a small group of children (plus a grandmother and two mothers) to chat about family trees and family history. The kid-sized table in the Children’s Department of the Providence Athenaeum, a library with roots back to 1836, was covered with tree cutouts.  All over the table were art supplies–markers, paper, stencils and cookie cutters for tracing.  Yes, cookie cutters!  Little hands not used to drawing can trace the inside of the cookie cutter.  You can buy leaf shaped and heart shaped ones in stores around appropriate holidays.

We chatted about genealogy from a kid’s perspective. I showed them historical depictions of families.  Paintings that illustrated multiple generations gathered around a table. An eighteenth century family tree with apples representing people and a photo tree.

A nineteenth century photo tree chart. Library of Congress
A nineteenth century photo tree chart. Library of Congress

Their Assignment: Draw a Family Tree

I asked them to think about their family and using those older examples for inspiration think about ways to create a family tree.

One child had a pedigree chart that her grandparent had helped her fill out.  Two of the children spotted a cat in one of the family pictures and asked if pets were allowed on their trees.  Absolutely!

There is nothing like the mind of a child. Creative and curious about their world they quickly got down to work.

Over the years I’ve seen kids create family representations that look like race tracks with cars. The winning cars were grandparents with kids way down the track.  One time a child drew a beach scene with deceased grandparents as clouds in the sky and their parents as footprints on beach.  There is no right way to show a child how to create a tree. They know who’s who and easily grasp the concept of pedigree charts.

Here are two examples from Saturday’s workshop.

Family Tree
A five year old girl included her dog and her siblings.
An eight year old, self-described history buff, drew silhouettes on her tree.
An eight year old, self-described history buff, drew silhouettes on her tree.

Try this exercise with your children/grandchildren and see what they can come up with. You might be surprised.  If you need more tips on teaching kids about family history, check out Zap The Grandma Gap.