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How to encourage your child's interest in the family tree

From heirlooms to ancestry, spark your child’s interest in your clan’s history

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Turn back the clock sixty or seventy years and the world was a very different place. Boys sported short trousers right up until early adolescence, mothers went out shopping with wicker baskets on their arms, and there were far fewer cars on the streets. The contrast between the childhood world of your parents and that of your own child is astonishing, and no doubt your parents have some fascinating tales to tell. Such tales are not only fascinating, but precious, too. No one else knows such personal information about your family – the places where they were born, the exciting adventures (and misadventures) they had. And, while it’s sad to think about it, once someone in your family dies, that knowledge is gone forever. Unless, of course, it’s passed on to the next generation…

When it comes to sitting still and listening, however, children’s attention span can flag. A good way to engage their interest is to give them objects to look at and handle. “Children respond well to things that they can see and touch, and it can get the dialogue going,” says Tessa Dunlop, a presenter at the Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition. “I remember admiring my grandmother’s old bagatelle set – a parlour game similar to billiards. It sparked all sorts of conversations about how children kept themselves amused before the days of television.” Passing down heirloom objects, such as a precious doll or fob watch, can also be a nice way to forge links between the generations. And as a fun and visual exercise, you could help your child draw out your family tree, adding in names, photographs and drawings for different family members.


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This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article

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