Think about the importance of kids at reunions. Kids are your future
and the future of your reunions. Making sure your next generation enjoys
reunions now, that they see value in regularly meeting with family and
always have a joyful time, will ensure your reunion's continuation in
Planning is Key
If the kids are not having a good time, they can spoil it for everyone.
Planning games, activities and entertainment for kids is essential so
they don't whine that they're bored and ask "when can we go home?". We
are a naturally child-focused society and yet some reunions actually get
under way without any thought of how the kids will be entertained. A pool
at the hotel? An hour or two; tops. Playing with cousins takes a while
to warm up, if they rarely see one another.
There is no place on earth where you cannot find many things that will
enchant kids. It may sometimes take some looking, asking kids what they
want, and coming up with a balance that will work for the ages and interests
of your kids.
Family History for Kids: Trees, Stories, and More
I've just spent a good part of the summer involved in a media tour to
talk about reunion activities, particularly for getting kids involved
in their reunions through family history. Everyone at a reunion, after
all, has family history in common.
Genealogy has become a subject of interest to all ages; for adults as
a hobby and often for children as projects in school. Family trees made
from research accumulated on Genealogy.com and assembled using Family
Tree Maker can fascinate kids of all ages. Family trees are the graphic
representation of how everyone at the reunion is related. When you demonstrate
family tree details for the youngest family members it helps make sense
of this large crowd of people they find themselves in. Better yet are
trees made with pictures of relatives and ancestors to put real personality
into the branches and leaves. Not only do kids (and others) confirm what
they already know about their relatives, but many people learn things
that surprise and amaze them, such as who is and is not related and how.
There are many other genealogy related and history activities that can
be incorporated for kids throughout your reunion. Storytelling, for example,
can serve to encourage passage of family oral history. Stories can range
from a grand sweep of family history and legend to telling tales about
individual lives. Stories that will most intrigue children are the ones
they can relate to. For example, parents and grandparents telling about
their childhood at the same age as the children they're telling the stories
to. Games they played; the first day of school; family reunions; how they
celebrated Christmas, birthdays and presents they got; how they got in
trouble and were punished; how grandparents or parents met their mates.
Find out what kids are thinking about and tell them about how it was 30
or 50 or 70 years ago.
The stories don't have to come directly from family members: the 250
descendants of George Washington's right-hand man, General "Mad Anthony
Wayne," sought the help of historians for their Iddings Family Reunion
in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the heart of the family home that dates
back nearly 300 years. A tour included visits to Iddings family homes
and Wayne's birthplace. The focus was to engage the children with Wayne's
colorful history. They were fascinated. They saw one of Wayne's graves
at Old St. David's Church cemetery. According to historical records, Wayne's
bones are buried in the family plot at St. David's; his flesh was buried
in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1796. The kids thought details of Wayne's interment
were definitely "cool."
When possible, use the occasion of storytelling to record or videotape
the "performance." These tapes can be the foundation for a family archival
collection. And, taping and recording can be assigned to kids who are
responsible enough to stick with the task. At the same time, other kids
can take pictures to accompany archived audio tapes. Video tapes can also
become part of the next reunion's program for the fun and laughter but
also for a demonstration of how little ones are growing and others are
Photos and albums shed much light on family history and also are enticing
to kids. Ask everyone to submit pictures from significant events and celebrations
to be included in books that become a visual family history. Make a game
of looking for resemblances , such as the same cleft in the chin or dimple
in a right cheek.
A Flair for the Dramatic
How about encouraging a flair for the dramatic? Using stories from your
own family history, help kids develop skits or plays that will retell
the tales at the reunion. For the Walker Family Reunion, organizer Alexandra
Walker Clark and her children wrote a skit depicting her great grandfather's
1872 arrival by covered wagon at the old farm, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Her son, Liam, starred as his great-great-grandfather; daughters Sarah
and Amanda dressed in calico and effectively portrayed the covered wagon
with two hula hoops draped with a bedsheet. The kids became hooked on
Kids can also create dramas about life abroad before emigration, special
triumphs and milestones of ancestors or events that involved family members.
If your kids have the talent, tell them the stories, then have them develop
their own skits. They can stage reenactments at places that are of importance
to your family such as homes, schools, churches, parks where ancestors
played, places where they worked. Be prepared to explain to them the significance
of each place; who lived, worked or worshipped there and stories about
their lives. Charming anecdotes and tales portrayed by the kids can engage
everyone at the reunion.
Generations Learning and Working Together
Some families organize workshops at reunions where they might discuss
genealogy, financial planning or medical history. Computer workshops can
turn the tables. Kids are fearless and know infinitely more about computers
than most adults. Kids and grandkids can be teachers. Adults and grandparents
are appreciative students. Let the kids shine. Ask them to demonstrate
reunion-related applications word processing (for correspondence,
writing family history and stories), accounts (reunion ledgers), graphics
(newsletters, flyers, invitations), e-mail (swift, easy, stampless, phoneless
family communication) and, of course, surfing the Internet to research
family history and learn lots more about reunions. Or how about a dance
after one of the family dinners? Kids can teach adults the latest dance
steps, while adults can reciprocate by teaching many "classic" dances;
disco, charleston, waltz, and fox trot.
Cemeteries are places where proximity to history and ancestors is compelling.
Family groups often use the reunion weekend to clean and plant gravesites
and cemetery plots or to dedicate markers and monuments. They engage in
projects that range from restoration and repair to family research, recording
data and mapping. Kids love to do tombstone rubbings they can take to
school for show and tell. Family members should be encouraged to share
tales about the people buried in the cemetery. Most families include memorial
services in their programs which are particularly poignant at the cemetery.
Get Kids Involved in the Planning
Kids can participate in any aspect reunion planning and organization
starting with early tasks such as stuffing envelopes or entering computer
data. They have access to the Internet and skills that will help elders
achieve their goals. Evaluate how each young family member can contribute
time and talent, then ask. More and more families are also involving kids
in planning their own program. What will make most of them happy? What
can they do to get everyone involved? What activities are particularly
interesting to them? Kids will come up with ideas that many adults would
not even fathom. They may wish to go to the mall or roller skating or
to a ball game. Maybe they want to visit the zoo, the beach, a children's
museum or amusement park. While some of these may not interest adults,
if it can be arranged, kids should be allowed to do the things that particularly
A cardinal rule of reunions is to plan something for everyone. Older
family members enjoy sitting, reminiscing and talking about old times,
but kids get bored and restless. Make plans that take all ages into consideration.
Everyone recognizes that if kids are happy, everyone else at the reunion
will be too.