3rd Graders Collect Family Stories

March 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm 1 comment

This is long. And maybe it falls into the ‘You had to be there’ category. And it’s hard to capture magic on paper, but I’ll try.
I’m winding up an 8 week residency with 3rd graders. They read folktales from their country of origin. They found a folktale they wanted to tell — didn’t have to be from their country of origin. They’ve been learning to tell the tale and will share it with kids in younger grades next week.
As part of the project, they interviewed a family member to collect some of their family stories. I gave them a book with 10 questions. They were to interview one adult family member — ask a question, listen, ask more questions if they were curious, and only then write the interesting details. They could write in the book. Their family member could write in the book. They could take turns writing in the book.
One week later, the books came back.
The fun part was seeing both the kids’ and their family member’s handwriting in the book. For most of them — the ones that didn’t do a phone interview — it was truly a shared project.
Some kids drew illustrations. Others included photos of the person they were interviewing.
When I arrived they were so excited to share what they had learned. And they were tickled to have learned something new. And since they’d been learning all about how to tell stories, I had them share the ‘story’ — not the list they might have written and not what their family member wrote — but the story. They studied what they’d written for a moment, took a deep breath, and started to tell — hopefully the first of many tellings so that the family story becomes a true treasure often repeated. And they told with voice, and gestures, and facial expressions, and joy — applying all of those concepts from the folktales they’d been working on to this story too. It was truly an honor to witness it all.

The questions for the family stories were:

Where did you grow up and what was it like?
Carlin’s mom got to play outside  — cops and robbers, kick the can, and running bases — until the street lights came on.
What kind of jobs did your parents do?
The kids learned their family members were ministers and store clerks, tailors and army sergeants, doctors and  fruit and vegetable peddlers, flower shop workers and teachers.
What were your chores when you were my age?
Robert’s father was born in Poland. His chores were to clean their apartment, go to the corner grocery store, and bring the coal from the storage in the basement up to the apartment. They used the coal to cook the food and heat the apartment.
Claire’s mom remembers she sang songs a lot when she did her chores or dried the dishes. “They were mostly songs from Girl Scout camp, or sometimes songs from church. 
What did you do for fun in the summer when you were my age?
Bella’s dad loved catching frogs, toads, snakes, and bugs.
Claire’s mom and older sister made a neighborhood newsletter with carbon paper copies and sold them for five cents each. They also put on plays. 
What did you do for fun in the winter when you were my age?
Lily’s dad loved throwing snowballs at the girls he liked!
Rosie’s mom told her about the Blizzard of ’77, when the snow was over her head and they walked home from the grocery store with their groceries piled on a sled.
What was school like when you were in 3rd grade?
     What was the best part? What was the worst part?
Hannah’s father loved the class rabbit. He did not like riding the bus.
Henry’s grandfather lived in a small town in Ireland. They had no electricity so he did his homework by candlelight. He liked the teachers who took the time to tell stories. He didn’t like getting smacked by a cane for bad behavior.
Tryn’s dad liked recess the best. The worst part was when everybody got lice.
Jack’s mom remembered making a Mother’s Day present at school. She covered a cigar box with colorful magazine pages. She didn’t really like the way it turned out but her mother, Jack’s grandmother, still uses it to this day.
Carlin’s mom remembers the story she wrote in 3rd grade that won an award. It was called ‘the Underwater Girl’. She also remembers the boy named Danny who teased her.
Noah learned his dad hated the Salisbury steak, especially the gravy.
Carol reported the worst part of school was having to share the playground with the boys during recess. 

When you were my age, how did you celebrate your birthday?
Cameron’s father was born in England. He would get breakfast in bed on his birthday, pick out what was for dinner, and go to the pool for a treat. His best present was the bike he got for his 10th birthday — it was orange and really fast.
Birthday’s were simpler ‘back then’ — devils food cake, angel food cake, family parties, and roller rinks.
When you were a kid, what scared you most?
Gracie interviewed her Papa, who was born in 1934. He grew up on Long Island, NY. His brother told him Long Island was barely attached to the USA by a small sliver of dirt that might break off and they would float to Europe (where WWII was happening). Papa was scared all night.
Sophia’s mom was afraid of car washes when you stayed in the car while the machine washed it.
Other kids discovered family members were afraid of the dark, deep water, thunderstorms, dogs, and being alone.
And Luke’s dad was always afraid of getting picked on because he was small.
Brady’s dad stayed up late one night and watched a vampire movie. It scared him so much he slept with the lights on until he was 30!

What was your very first job?
     How much did you get paid?
Paige’s mom made Dumbo Ears at the state and county fair. She got paid $2.25/hour.
Other first jobs were cutting the grass for $5/yard. Mother’s helper for 25 cents. Delivering the newspaper and stopping at the candy store on the way home.

What do you remember about the day I was born?
These became love letters to their kids. Parents and grandparents remembered the day and the time and the phone calls (that delivered the news) and the first cry. 
Sophia’s mom got to the hospital and was told to go for a walk, the baby wasn’t ready to come. So she and Sophia’s dad walked along Lake Michigan in the early morning sun, already a hot summer day. Sophia’s mom writes: “When I got back to the hospital room you were finally ready! Out you came. A girl! My Sophia had arrived!”
Paige’s mom remembers how beautiful she was and “seeing Daddy hold you for the first time”.
Patrick wrote in his daughter’s book: “It was a wonderful day and Molly and I felt truly blessed to have such a sweet little girl. A very nice nurse came in and suggested the name Cameron, since we didn’t have any names picked out. Cammie was full of smiles right away. She arrived safe and sound and we were all happy.”
Tryn’s dad told her she was crying when he first met her, and stopped as soon as she heard her daddy’s voice for the first time — he was singing the song he sang to her mom’s belly.
Rosie came home from the hospital on the day the Columbia space shuttle exploded. 
Brady’s dad was the first one to hold him. “I took him over to meet his mom. I have him a big kiss and told him I loved him. Then I told him that the Buckeyes were playing in the national championship game the next week.”
Will learned he was cute, “like a peanut”, and his dad held him in one arm.
Jack’s mom could hear him crying across the room. He sounded cold and scared and so she talked to him and said, “There, there. You’re o.k. I’m right here.” Jack stopped crying immediately and everyone was amazed.
Ethan’s dad remembers the baseball all-star game was playing on t.v. Oh, and he and his mom both cried when he finally arrived.
Danny’s mom wrote: “We thought we would name you Michael. Within minutes you were Danny. I always say the angels sang the day you were born.”
Alison’s father wrote in her book: “On July 22, 2003, I remember nothing but joy when you arrived and everyone was healthy. I knew that my daughter was a gift and I continue to cherish and love that gift every single day.” And then he drew a heart at the bottom of the page.

And then there’s Quinn, who flew to NYC to celebrate his grandmother’s 70th birthday the weekend he received his Family Treasures book. Can you see the family gathered around listening to her stories, with Quinn and then his aunts and uncles and grandmother too writing in his book? His grandmother, Joanna, was born in Lithuania but fled their home because of WWII. They spent two years in Germany but life was hard because buildings were being bombed by armies. “You had to beg for food from the farmers. Sometimes they were nice, but sometimes you would have to steal  from their garden.”
Joanna told Quinn: “The worst part (of school) was being scared by a goat that 2 boys brought to school one day. Also, the teachers would hit your hand with a ruler if you made a noise or wrote with your left hand.”
They didn’t celebrate birthdays but did celebrate Name Day. They would “have cake and exchange home made presents like poems or decorated rocks.”
Family stories. Gifts.
They have a book I hope someone saves for them. A treasure.
And I was there.


Entry filed under: Just Do It -- Stories from the Field, Teaching Artist. Tags: , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Yvonne  |  March 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Awesome! You are a fabulous teacher. You inspire all of us.


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