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Connect the Generations

"We crave a greater sense of connection in our families, and in our culture. But we put all our 3-year-olds in one place, all our 14-year-olds in another place, and all our 80-year-olds in yet another place. When we do this, we miss out. Each age group has its own wisdom, its own 'specialness' to share."

Mary Pipher

We need each other. We need connections that matter, connections that are deep and meaningful. We need to connect to each other, to our histories, and to the traditions, values, and life lessons those histories carry.

A sense of connection is a feeling of being a part of something larger than yourself. For most people, the two most powerful experiences in life are achieving and connecting. When children have a sense of connection, they have the confidence and sense of stability they need to deal with an often overwhelming, chaotic world. When older adults have a sense of connection, it brings meaning and purpose into their life. I also believe wisdom is to be found in connecting youth and age -- action and reflection. One of our best hopes for the future is to connect the generations.

While many of the activities in this kit deal with connection in one form or another, this particular section is about consciously exploring connections. It's about playing a game of connect the dots of your life and family history. The key thing to remember: You are here because those before you were here. You're connected. We are connected by the legacies passed down from those who came before us and the legacies we pass down to those who come after us.

Connection is also a practical, everyday matter. How do today's grandparents and grandchildren connect? As reported in a recent AARP Bulletin questionnaire, despite the growing use of the Internet, visiting and talking on the phone remain the most common ways of keeping in touch. Only 7% of respondents said they communicate with grandchildren through e-mail, while 15% wrote letters. But that's not real connection. You can phone someone and still not connect. In trying to make a deeper connection, grandparents can get pretty creative. Some grandparents record audiotapes of themselves reading a story or singing silly songs. Some make videos or scrapbooks of their visits. One grandfather phones his sports-loving grandson frequently to discuss the latest box scores. Some grandparents plan special trips with grandchildren. Others say that grandchildren simply enjoy "searching my attic and basement for old, interesting items" and "baking icing-loaded cookies." Doing art projects or cooking are favorite activities, as are outdoor adventures such as fishing, hunting, and camping. A common thread throughout: the joy of teaching things to grandchildren and connecting them to their family history.

Some storybooks about family connections and histories: Homeplace by Anne Shelby; Imagine That! by Janet Wilson; When I Was Young by James Dunbar; My Grandmother's Journey by John Cech; Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson; The Lucky Stone by Lucille Clifton; Bubbe & Gram by Joan C. Hawxhurst; Liliana's Grandmothers by Leyla Torres; Luka's Quilt by Georgia Guback; Mimi's Tutu by Tynia Thomassie.

Activities: What's in a Name?; Family Tree; Totem Pole; Who's in the Photo?; Genetic Ingredients; Little Hand/Big Hand; Hand Full of Love.


What's in a Name?

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History; Language Arts.

What You Need: Internet/library access (an especially useful book is the New Dictionary of American Family Names by Elsdon C. Smith). Optional -- world map with marking pins.

Doing It:

What does your family name mean? Where does it come from? Is your first (and middle) name part of a family naming tradition, such as always giving the firstborn son the name of his paternal grandfather? Were you named for someone special?

My first name, "Susan," is one that my mother liked and also admired from a cousin of mine. My family name, "Bosak," is Ukrainian. Roughly translated, it means "bare feet." So, in English, I'm "Susan Bare Feet." The name may have come from my ancestors being very poor peasants and not being able to afford shoes, or maybe they just liked the feel of the grass between their toes (and, yes, I do rather enjoy walking around shoeless!).

There are over 1.6 million names in the US, and each one has its own history. You might not expect names to mean anything, but they do. Names are filled with meaning, symbolism, and history. First and middle names frequently have family tradition behind them. Family names may reveal everything from where ancestors lived to what they looked like.

There are four kinds of family names: patronymics (father's name with "son" immediately after it -- as in Johnson, meaning "son of John"); place names (where the person lived); occupational names (what the person did for a living); and nicknames (based on a person's personality or characteristics).

Last names are a modern invention. Throughout most of history, people had only one name. They were Jack or Sally or Maria or Roberto -- and that was it. People lived in very small villages, so one unique name was enough to identify each person. But as villages grew larger and turned into towns which turned into big cities, things got confusing. Parents would often name their children after famous heroes or religious figures, and duplication wasn't unusual. Many people had the same name. So, second names were invented to distinguish one "William" from another. The growth of family names spread. Governments also began insisting on them because they needed those names to tax citizens and draft young men into the army.

The most common family name in the world is Chang. More than 75 million Chinese people have that last name. In Western countries, the most common name is -- surprise! -- Smith. There are about 3.3 million Smiths in the US and more than 75,000 in Canada. The name Smith comes from the Old English word smite, which means "to strike." Smiths worked with metals, using hammers or other tools to smite the metal and make something useful like horseshoes, tools, and swords. People needed a lot of these items, and so there were a lot of Smiths.

Some other names and their meanings: Bader -- doctor (German); Becker -- baker (German); Bell -- dweller at the sign of the bell (English); Carpenter -- one who worked with wood (English); Cooper -- barrel maker (English); Grant -- large or fat man (English, French, Scottish); Horowitz -- one who came from a mountainous place or a son of a mountaineer (Czecho-Slovakian, Russian); Kim -- gold (Korean); Masada -- right plus rice field (Japanese); Ng -- crow (Chinese); Rizzo -- one who had curly or wavy hair (Italian); Tung -- to correct (Chinese); Tyler -- one who made, sold, or covered buildings with tiles (English).

Get as much information as possible about your first (and middle) name and your family name. Talk with your parents and grandparents. Then do some research on the Internet or at the library. One particularly useful book is the classic New Dictionary of American Family Names by Elsdon C. Smith. It includes nearly 20,000 names. Keep in mind that some family names underwent changes as people traveled from the "old country" to North America (many names were anglicized). Are there stories about the change?

If a classroom of students all look up the origin of their family names, get a big world map and use pins to mark where each person's name came from. You'll be surprised at the coverage across the map that you'll have.


Family Tree

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event, and after.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History; Language Arts; Art; Family Fun "Homework."

What You Need: Copies of the blank Pedigree Chart; pencil; photocopies of photos of you, your parents and grandparents; scissors; glue. Optional -- large sheet of paper; ruler; pencil; markers or pencil crayons; photocopies of photos of family members.

Doing It:

This activity introduces genealogy. Children can better understand their place in their family by doing a family tree. For a very basic "starter" family tree, see the "Generations Scrapbook" activity in the Scrapbooking & Other Photo Fun section of this kit. The Pedigree Chart in this activity is a little more detailed.

Genealogy is the record of a family's history. Every family, no matter where it comes from, has its own long and fascinating story -- just like Alex Haley's famous family story Roots. Exploring your family history is an adventure. But it isn't just about ancestors. It's about you. It's about how you've been influenced by what's come before you, and about how you will influence what comes after you.

You might initially think you have only one family. But that's not true. You actually have many families. You start, of course, with your immediate family -- your parents and you. But then you'll be thinking about your four grandparents. Each of them came from a different family. You'll start including your mom's mother's family, your mom's father's family, your dad's mother's family, and your dad's father's family. Very soon, your family tree will grow and grow and grow.

Each level of a family is called a "generation." If you start with yourself and look back one generation, you come to your parents. Look back two generations and there are your grandparents. When you look back three generations, you get to your grandparents' parents -- your great-grandparents. A chart showing only your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents has fourteen people (two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents). BUT, each of your eight great-grandparents had two parents, and each of those sixteen great-great-grandparents had two parents. By the time you get to your great-great-great-great-grandparents (what genealogists call your "fourth great-grandparents"), there would be 126 people on your chart. And if you went back three more generations, your chart would have over 1,000 people on it!

Genealogists have designed special charts to help you see at a glance what you know and don't know about your family's history. The charts have different names -- pedigrees, lineage charts, family diagrams, and family trees. It's easy to see how the charts got the name of "tree." They do have branches, they display family roots, and they grow for hundreds of years. Some charts are very complex designs with ornate pictures of real trees made up of hundreds of branches. Other charts are less decorative but contain an enormous amount of information, with lots of lines and words connecting across a sheet of paper.

Technically, pedigree charts aren't exactly the same as family trees. Pedigrees trace a person's direct ancestors. That means only parents and children -- no uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. Family trees may include all the extended family and can be huge. Computers are very helpful in keeping track of and organizing all this information.

As you explore your family tree, start simple. Use the blank Pedigree Chart sheet to chart your parents, your parents' parents, and your grandparents' parents if possible. With this chart, you'll be able to see at a glance the people you're descended from. Remember that if any one of those people on the chart hadn't been born, you wouldn't have been born.

Ask parents and grandparents for information to help you complete the chart. Fill in the chart in pencil so that you can make changes as you get new information. Your name goes in first; then branch to your parents. It's standard to include each person's name (list women with their unmarried, "maiden" name), birth date, birthplace, and the date on which they died. Keep in mind one simple genealogical rule when you're writing dates: Always put the day first, write out the month second, and the full year third (e.g. 20 April 1945 and 15 February 1876). This avoids confusion. Shorter methods can result in mistakes -- does 7/8/75 mean July 8, 1975 or does it mean August 7, 1875?

Included on the blank Pedigree Chart are squares into which you can glue a photocopy of a photo of each person.

Family trees can be as creative as you like. You can try your hand at a fancier chart. On a large sheet of paper, follow the same basic pattern as the Pedigree Chart. You can design it to reflect your family identity in some way. For example, you could use a bookshelf theme with individual books for each person for a family that loves to read. You could make a tree putting together everyone's individual hand prints and filling in the information inside the hand prints. Use different colors for different parts of the family tree. Draw different shapes for different people -- a circle if the person is female, a square if they're male. You can also include a photograph of each person, an item that identifies them like a lock of hair or a fingerprint, and a few notes about special characteristics like occupation, hobbies, talents, etc.

To find out more about genealogy and family trees, visit some of the websites listed at the end of this kit.


Totem Pole

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Art; Social Studies/History.

What You Need: Construction paper; scissors; ruler; markers and/or pencil crayons; empty roll from paper towels; tape or glue. Optional -- feathers; birdseed; cotton; macaroni.

Doing It:

Native American cultures have interesting ways of showing the connectedness of all things. For example, the medicine wheel (a round shape divided into four quarters) is a powerful ancient symbol of the universe. It shows the many different ways all things are interconnected. It shows not only things that are, but also things that could be.

Traveling around the medicine wheel, there are gifts from the four directions. For example, the South is the direction of the sun at its highest point. It is the place of summer, of youth and physical strength and vigor. Summer is the time that people must work to prepare for the fall and winter months. Symbolically, it's a time of preparing for the future, of getting ready for days ahead. The South brings the gifts of youth, idealism, fullness, determination, and goal setting.

The North is the place of winter, of white snows that remind us of the white hair of elders. It is the dawning place of true wisdom. The gifts of the North include elders, wisdom, thinking, understanding, completion, fulfillment, lessons of things that end and seeing how all things fit together.

The East is the place of light and beginnings, of hope and innocence. The West is the direction from which darkness comes. It is a place of testing and perseverance, and contemplation.

The important thing to remember about the medicine wheel is not to become so delighted with the gifts of any one direction that you forget the journey and attempt to dwell in just one direction. Each of the gifts of one direction is balanced by the gifts of the other directions. The idealism of the South is balanced by the wisdom and clarity of thought learned in the North (i.e. young and old both have value). The mystery of all endings is found in the birth of new beginnings. There is no ending to the journey of the four directions. The human capacity to develop is infinite. The medicine wheel turns forever.

Some Native American tribes have a long history of making totem poles -- wooden posts carved and painted with a series of symbols -- to represent their family's ancestry. The symbols, or "totems," are images of animals, plants, or made-up creatures created by the artists. Proud of their ancestry and their connection to it, family members would put the poles up in front of their dwellings, and warriors would carry small versions of the poles with them into battle.

Children can make a totem pole to represent their family. Cut four to eight, 5.5 inch-long strips of different colors of construction paper. You can vary the width of the strips from 1 to 2 inches, depending on the number of strips you're going to use. The total of all the widths should equal about 11 inches.

Working in the center of a strip, use felt markers, pencil crayons, and your imagination to turn each "totem" into a creature, real or made up, that represents a person in your family (e.g. grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings) and the gifts they have or give. Start with the oldest relative for the top totem and work your way down through other relatives. If your grandmother always encourages you to try new things, she might be represented by an eagle (who soars free in the sky). If your father tells a lot of jokes, you might use a laughing hyena. If your brother is very brave, make him a lion. Be creative.

Get an empty paper towel roll to use as the base for your totem pole. Starting at the top, wrap your top totem (strip of construction paper) around the paper towel roll, securing it with tape or glue. Continue with the other strips of construction paper (each directly under the previous one) until you've created different colored totems along the entire length of the roll. Make sure all the totems are facing the same way on the roll.

You can finish off your totem pole and give it texture by gluing on feathers, birdseed, cotton, macaroni, and bits of construction paper in the shape of wings, tails, and beaks.


Who's in the Photo?

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History.

What You Need: Photos of children when they were younger; photos of their grandparents when they were children. Note: Family photos are often precious; people may want to bring in photocopies of the photos rather than the photos themselves.

Doing It:

Photographs are a very effective way to explore connections and changes.

As part of a Grandparents Day event, children and their grandparents can bring in photos of themselves (or photocopies of photos) when they were younger (e.g. children can bring toddler photos, grandparents can bring photos from their childhood).

Mix up all the photographs. Guess which photo belongs to which person. How do you make your guesses? How good are you at guessing? How can you tell an "old" photo from a "new" one (e.g. clothing, background, items in the photo)? How do people change as they age? Discuss ways they stay the same.

Now look closely at photos of people from the same family. What family similarities can you find?

Variation: If you're doing this activity with just a class of children (i.e. grandparents are not present), each student can bring in a photocopy of an old photo of their same-sex parent or grandparent when they were young (e.g. if student is a girl, she brings in a photo of her mother or grandmother as a child). Mix up all the photos and have everyone work together to guess which photo belongs to which student. Why do you think a given photo belongs to a certain person? What traits are passed from generation to generation?


Genetic Ingredients

Suggested Activity Timing: Before or after a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Health; Social Studies/History; Family Fun "Homework."

What You Need: Photographs of parents and grandparents, and great-grandparents if possible; mirror; photocopy of a photo of child's face; large sheet of paper; glue; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

At the end of Something to Remember Me By (the book that inspired the national Legacy Project; see the Something to Remember Me By: Start With Story section in this kit), the grown granddaughter realizes that she has her grandmother's "big, warm smile." We all inherit different traits from our parents and grandparents. Each person is a mixture of the people who came before him or her, and has a specific genetic "recipe" made up of specific "ingredients" from each parent and grandparent. Almost at birth, a child is described as having "her mother's eyes" or "his grandfather's nose." Some traits may skip a generation, appearing in you and your grandparent, but not in your parent (e.g. you and your grandmother may have a talent for drawing, but your mother can't draw at all).

Children can get a photo of each of their parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents if photos are available). Try to get photos with the faces as large as possible. Sit in front of a mirror and study each feature of your face, noticing its size, shape, and color. Compare your face to the faces in the photos.

Now glue a photocopy of a photo of your face onto a large sheet of paper. Draw an arrow to each of your features and write down the person you think you got that feature from. Facial features include your hair color, eyes, eyebrows, nose, cheekbones, mouth, chin, freckles, ears.

In one corner of the sheet, make a list of your traits other than facial features (e.g. artistic interest, athletic ability, mathematical skill, scientific interest, a love of reading, etc.) and write down which parent or grandparent each trait may have come from.

Discuss your chart and observations with your parents and grandparents. Do they agree or disagree with your comparisons? Do they have any of their own observations to add?

You can find a related activity in "Your Amazing Body" in the "Hey, Wow!" for All Ages section of this kit.


Little Hand/Big Hand

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Health; Art.

What You Need: Paper; pencil; markers or pencil crayons.

Doing It:

Hands allow us to make a fundamental human connection. Holding someone's hand can be an expression of love, comfort, and security. It can mean a great deal to both a child and an older adult. Hand holding also has an especially poignant intergenerational significance -- it shows the linking of past and future. A young hand in an old hand is an often-used symbol of connections across generations.

Working in two-person teams (i.e. child with an older adult), young and old can compare their hands.

Start with a warm-up exercise to focus attention on everyone's hands. Shake, wriggle, and rub them. Watch and experience them. How does it feel when you move them? Can you move them any way you want? How do they look? Examine both sides of both your left and right hands. What do you see? What does the skin look like? How long are your fingernails? Are you wearing any rings? What pattern do the "life lines" on your palm follow?

How are your left and right hands the same as each other? Different? Now, how are a young hand and an old hand the same? Different? What are some things a child does with their hands? What are some things an older person does? Is one person's hand "better" than the other's? Why or why not?

Using a pencil, one person in a team traces the other person's left hand onto a large, single sheet of paper. Then reverse. In the end, a little hand and a big hand can appear side-by-side, or the child's hand can appear inside the adult's hand. What do you see?

Each person can write down some key words describing their hand and/or their feelings about their hand. Put the words inside, outside, or curving around the shape of the hand. Be creative! Trace the outline of each hand in the person's favorite color.

To finish off, each person signs their name under their hand, and then they shake each other's real hands.


Hand Full of Love

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Art.

What You Need: 2 cups flour; 1 cup salt; 1 cup water; mixing bowl; spoon; rolling pin; toothpick; plastic or butter knife; baking sheet; wooden dowel; dried flowers; clear spray lacquer.

Doing It:

This is a keepsake children can make (with adult supervision) for their grandparents and present to them during a Grandparents Day event, or as a gift any time.

Make up some salt dough using 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, and 1 cup water. It should have a nice, even texture. Add a little more flour or water as required.

Roll out a circle large enough for a child's hand. Trace around the hand using a toothpick. Cut out the pattern with a plastic knife or butter knife. Remove all the excess dough so you have only the hand left. Carefully flip the hand over.

Bend the middle two fingers down over a wooden dowel. The hand is saying, "I love you" in sign language.

Bake the dough in the oven at 200 degrees F for about three hours, until golden. It's important to keep the temperature low and the baking time long because you're slowly evaporating the water.

When the hand is cool, remove the dowel. Slip some dried flowers into the hand, where the dowel was. Spray everything with a clear lacquer for a beautiful and touching gift (just for admiring, not eating!).

From Grandparents Day Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2001, www.somethingtoremembermeby.org

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