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Grandparents, Write Your Stories

Ages:
Ages 9+

One of the greatest gifts we can give our grandchildren is to write — and tell — the stories that shaped our lives. Parents’ and grandparents’ stories provide “models of overcoming challenges and sticking together,” says Robyn Fivush, an Emory University psychologist who researches the role of family history.

Think of all the questions we wish we’d asked our own grandparents. Remember that our grandchildren are likely to share our stories with the next generation, and that generation with the one to follow — an unbroken chain.

Here’s an easy activity that will get you and your grandchild started telling each other stories.

Create a Story Bowl

Supplies:

  • Two bowls (or baskets, hats, or other containers)
  • Post-it notes (or index cards or small pieces of paper)
  • Pens

 Steps:

  1. Brainstorm story ideas together — things that each of you wants to know about the other. Begin on common ground. What is your favorite food? Your biggest fear? Grandchildren, ask grandparents to weave in the past: What were you doing during pivotal moments in history? How did you meet your spouse or partner? What was your life like before mom or dad were born? Grandparents, ask grandchildren to share ideas: Tell me about the most fun birthday party you attended. What makes you happy at school?
  2. Write each story idea on a Post-it note or paper and put them into either the bowl with Grandparents’ Stories (ideas submitted by grandchildren) or the bowl with Grandchildren’s Stories (ideas submitted by grandparents).
  3. Each pick a story idea from your bowl and GO! Set a timer for 10 minutes for non-stop writing and then read each other your stories, or simply tell them using your notes as a guide. Make the stories lively, detailed, and entertaining. We rarely forget family stories that make us laugh.
  4. If you are not together in person, connect via video conference, messaging, text or email. You can film yourself telling the story, or simply take turns suggesting a story prompt to each other.

Tips for success:

  • Adapt the activity according to your grandchild’s age. Older grandchildren may enjoy writing. For younger grandchildren, it may work best to ask them to tell stories about events of the last day or two.
  • Focus on framing these and other experiences as stories, with a beginning, middle, and end. These are the beginning of the narratives that stay with us and expand over time.
  • Instead of asking vague questions such as “How was school today?” — which is likely to elicit the response “fine” or “good” — say instead, “tell me a story about school.” You will be amazed at the doors that open.

About the “Grandparents! Write Your Stories” Program:

I am Jerry Witkovsky, grandpa to six wonderful grandchildren and two great grandchildren. I invite you to join more than 400 grandparents from 22 states and two continents who have participated in our program.

Click HERE to learn more about the program and to get more story prompts.

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