Introducing children to Family History at Riverside School

As part of our ongoing mission to make family history more engaging for the younger generations, we’re working with another Yorkshire school to introduce family history into the curriculum.

Last year I was delighted to go into a local school and speak to the children about family history. We had such a lot of fun and it was great to see the children so enthusiastic, enjoying conversations with their family about their ancestors and starting to record their own lives on Twile.

I recently accepted an invitation to go in to another school, working with the history teacher at Riverside School in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, UK. A group of excited 9 and 10 year old students greeted me and I have the pleasure of going along each week for six weeks .

In the first week, in order to introduce the children to family history, their teacher Mrs Patrick and I had a discussion with the class to get their thoughts on ‘What is family’, ‘Why is it important’, ‘What is an ancestor’.  She then asked the children to recall happy family stories relating to the Christmas holidays, where they were likely to have family gatherings.  Many mentioned seeing grandparents, aunts and uncles and discussed who was related to who and on which side of the family (maternal/paternal).

We then introduced the concept of the family tree, showing them the Twile version and asked the children to think about how their family was connected and draw their own trees.

As the children began this work, questions began to be asked such as ‘I don’t know my grandparents real names – they are just granny and grandpa’, ‘I don’t know if my uncle is my mum or dad’s brother’, ‘I don’t know my mum’s date of birth’ – We asked the children to write these questions down and take them home to find out more from their parents.

In the second week, the children came along to the class with more information about their family, ready to put it into Twile.

After showing the children how to log in, they set to work adding their family tree findings online.  The children got to work enthusiastically and found Twile easy to use.  By the end of the first part of the session the children had added their immediate family members and began adding aunts/uncles and their cousins.

The children took photos of themselves using the iPads and imported their photos onto the ‘profile’ on their trees.

We watched two videos: the first to illustrate how the family tree is pieced together. The second was the first part of Who Do You Think You Are – JK Rowling:

At the end of the 15 minutes, the children were asking to watch more – they were completely enthralled in the journey that JK Rowling was being taken on. They couldn’t believe it when she learnt that the grandfather she thought she knew about was the wrong person!

We had a class discussion following the videos – the children were keen to tell me their own stories learnt from the last session about their history – stories were told about soldiers in the war and an ancestor that had sailed on the ‘Mayflower’ from the UK to America in the 1600s!! I was quite taken by the enthusiasm the children displayed and clearly the parents’ involvement in helping the children learn – children had also found out the names of their grandparents and now knew the dates of birth of their parents. One child in particular discovered they had a well-known ancestor – Edward Jenner – who discovered the vaccine for small pox!

After the second session, the children were asked to choose a family member and write a story about them – find out their name, date of birth, what relation they are, what their occupation is/was and something interesting about them. They will bring a photo if possible, ready to ‘create a story’ about that person in next week’s lesson.

Their excitement was contagious and I can’t wait to go back next week!

Family history at Old Town School

With our collaboration with Old Town School in full swing, I wanted to share the experience so far with you – the response from the children has been brilliant. Their enthusiasm and interest is amazing and I’m grateful to Old Town School for the experiment. As half term approaches, we have discussed emotions and asked the children to ‘call out’ happy and sad emotions.

Each of the children was asked to think about a happy occasion and tell the class about it. Without fail, every child mentioned their ‘family’ in the happy occasion which lead to a discussion around the importance of family and an understanding that both happy and sad times could be shared with family. The children were then asked to create a comic strip and draw out their happy memory.

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The children have also learned about two important subjects.

Death: When shown various items such as: leaves, flowers and fruit which were dead and alive, they had to describe the differences in colour and texture. They were asked to ‘call out’ alternative meanings of the word ‘died’ to help them understand why we use different words to sympathise and empathise with one another in the event of someone dying that you know.   The children watched a short movie about a badger that had ‘passed away’ to affirm their understanding.

cropped-school-image-2Family tree: We discussed how families were connected and I drew an example family tree up on the board. The children were asked to have a go at drawing their family tree and indicate how far back could they go. They were told that their family tree should include all living and dead family members and as homework, they were encouraged to ask  their parents to help add more family members to the drawing and collect dates of birth where possible.

Our first introduction of Twile to the class was in week three where, having brought in their updated family trees, we were amazed to see that one child had a tree that dated back to the 1300’s! They clearly have a genealogist in the family who will be delighted that their younger generation is taking an early interest!

After a short demonstration of how to build a tree in Twile, the students got to work. With one computer between three, they watched one another take turns to grow their trees. They were so excited to see the branches connect in Twile and enthusiastically continued to add further relatives until their time was up! The children found the technology easy and fun to use and couldn’t wait to get home and do more with their parents. I received a wonderful note from one of the students!

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So far, this project is going brilliantly and I really am having so much fun with the children. I’ll keep you posted on how we progress. If the response so far is anything to go by, we have generated family discussions and made family history a bit more interesting. Young genealogists in training!

Kelly