Have your grandchildren ever seen your old neighborhood, or the spot where you were married, or the building where you worked your first job? If you want a special outing with your grandkids, consider a "This is My Life" tour. Revisiting your childhood community together is a great way to pass on family history while bringing you and your grandkids closer.
"It's one thing to tell your grandchildren stories about your childhood. It's another thing to help them experience these stories themselves," says Amy Goyer, coordinator of the Grandparent Information Center for AARP. "Seeing the sights of your old neighborhood or homestead helps bring the experience alive, which means the grandkids will remember it a lot longer."
Are your grandkids interested in your "back in the day" memories? Yes, says Goyer, and research backs that up. AARP has asked groups of kids how they feel about listening to their grandparents' stories. "We've found that grandkids really do like learning about how life used to be, even if they don't directly say so." She adds, "It's important to grandkids to feel that sense of family history that goes back generations."
Make history meaningful
Taking a nostalgia tour often triggers memories and stories that otherwise might not be shared, says Sheri Steinig, special projects director of Generations United, an organization dedicated to promoting ties among children, youth and older adults. "Children are growing up without a connection to their past and their heritage," she notes. This type of outing provides youngsters with "a perspective and understanding that ties the past with the present."
To help make your neighborhood tour successful and memorable, here are a few tips:
Plan ahead. "You want to make the most of the experience, so plan out exactly where you want to go, then give yourself enough time so you're not rushing," says Ms. Steinig. Before the trip, ask your grandkids if there are places they want to see, then include those in your tour.
Keep your grandkids' interests in mind. Children, especially younger ones, have a short attention span and are happiest if they can move around. If you can, walk the neighborhood streets or country roads together, stopping to eat or rest when the children need to. Think about the things you enjoyed when you were their age, then try to include something similar in your tour, such as an ice cream parlor, a lake to wade in, or a favorite hamburger joint.
Offer more than the facts. A building is just a building until you tell a story about it. When passing by a landmark, explain what it meant to you and why. For example, "Here is where I took your grandmother on our first date." Liven up your memories with details and don't be afraid to admit some mistakes you made, says Goyer. "It's much easier for kids to relate to you if they realize you had problems growing up, too."
Ask questions. Involve your grandkids by asking their opinions and comparing what is different for kids now -- and what is the same. "Open up discussions that parents may not be able to," says Steinig. Talk about challenges at school, chores at home, problems with friends, and things you may have wanted, but couldn't afford. Ask, "How would you have handled that situation?"
Share "survivor" stories. A good way to talk about morals and values without sounding preachy is to recall times that tested or challenged you. Did you go to war, raise children on a tight budget, or suffer hardships? Talk about how you managed the tough times -- then praise a similar character trait in your grandkids.
Record the event. Take photos of you and your grandchildren at each stop. If you have old photos of the same places, compare how things have changed. Putting these photos in a scrapbook, or asking your grandkids to post them on a family website, helps preserve the experience for others to learn from.
When the trip is finished, reflect together on the things you saw, learned and discussed. "Now is the time to convey a sense of possibility, based on where your family has come from," says Steinig. "Tell your grandkids, 'These are your roots,' and then ask, "What kinds of opportunities lie ahead of you?'"