What Teaching First Graders Has Taught Me About Genealogy

It has been SO long since I have written a blog post.  The reason?  I have been teaching first graders at a charter school in Inglewood, California.  I have been up to my forehead in teaching stuff since I was hired in August.  In the last couple of months, my first graders have taught me a few things about genealogy:

1.) Family are the people that love you.  One of our mini-units in Social Studies right now is talking about our families and our communities.  So we have read books about different types of families and done all sorts of sharing about the people in our own families.  Time and time again, my little firsties made it clear that their families consist of the people that love them.  We did an assignment in which the kids drew pictures of their families and wrote a sentence about the people in the picture.  Very few students listed just Mom, Dad, and siblings.  In fact, nearly every kid had a grandparent or great-grandparent, an older cousin, step parents, half-siblings, aunts and uncles, and all sorts of different relationships listed as well.  Some kids even asked me if they could use two pages of paper to show the different family dynamics.

I loved having the kids write about their families, but it became clear that the current, traditional pedigree and family group sheet model used in genealogy will not work here.  These forms do not accurately show half siblings, step siblings, and other important family relationships.  If the form isn’t relevant to them, they won’t use it… so imagine in 10 years when these kids walk into a genealogy society and are handed a traditional pedigree or family group sheet?  They will turn around, walk out, and probably not think about their genealogy again for a long time.

2.) Kids have zero concept of time, space, or geography.  This week, we did a mini-unit on heroes.  Each day, the special helper of the day gets to pick a book from our themed basic for me to read aloud on the carpet.  On Monday, one of my adorable little kiddos picked a book about Abraham Lincoln for us to read.  We read little snippets about how Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president and was president during the Civil War.  We talked about how he grew up in a log cabin in Illinois and was a lawyer before he was president.  We talked about how he freed the slaves and how he now has a giant statue of him in Washington, D.C. to memorialize him.

“Can we go see the statue for a field trip?”  “No, sweetheart.  We would have to get on a plane to do that.”

“Can he come visit us?”  “President Lincoln?  No, remember, he was president a long, long time ago and he has been dead for a long time.”

“Can we go visit President Obama?”  “No, that isn’t really how it works.”

Bottom line: Make it concrete for them.  I created a timeline for them and we studied maps so that I could try to make it more concrete for them.  But at this age, they just don’t have that sense of time, space, and geography down yet.  Keep this in mind when you tell family stories to the little ones – try to make it concrete.  Use pictures, maps, timelines, and actual objects to help these kids understand the family stories you tell.

3.) They L-O-V-E to be helpers.  My first graders LOVE it when I give them a job – from sharpening pencils, sorting, cleaning, dumping trash, anything.  They are just so eager to please.  So why not put that to use?  Give them a camera and have them take photos at cemeteries.  Have them cut the grass and pull the weeds near grave stones.  Have them wear white gloves and put pictures in archival envelopes or sleeves.  Just about anything – yes, it will take them a long time to do it and you might even have to redo the whole job yourself when they are done, but in the process, you just taught the kids that genealogy and family history is fun and important work.  Besides, you are building memories for them to pass down to their families.

4.) First graders argue the same way people do in genealogy groups on Facebook.  Daily – no, HOURLY, I deal with random little arguments that break out: “But I wanted that color blue.  Not this color blue.”  “Stop holding all the crayons!”  “But I wanted to use that glue stick!”  It is always over the same things every. single. day.

In the genealogy groups on Facebook, the arguments are often the same too: “I don’t think I should have to pay to do genealogy!”  “Why is so-and-so stealing information on MY great-great-great ancestor!?”  “I deserve a refund because Ancestry.com is down!”  “Who is the father of John Smith!  Why isn’t anyone telling me anything?!”  The same arguments, every. single. day.


Alright-y then… back to the grading!  Hope you all have enjoyed my analysis on he similarities between genealogy and teaching first graders.  Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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5 responses to “What Teaching First Graders Has Taught Me About Genealogy

  1. Great post. You haven’t lost your skill in writing, even if you daily talk to first graders. Thank you.
    Karen´s last blog post ..52 Ancestors – #41 – Gideon Drake (1800 KY – 1896 IN)

  2. Loved this post, especially the part comparing 1st graders and genealogists’ arguments/complaints. :-)

  3. Elyse,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-17.html

    Have a great weekend!

  4. LOL!! I teach rather bigger kids (years 8-12) but can completely relate as my eldest son is about the age of your kids. For the older kids, the ‘hook’ is stories. They all love a good story. http://genxalogy.blogspot.com.au/search/label/GenYalogy
    Gen´s last blog post ..One Lovely Blog Award

  5. Pingback: WikiWeek In Review: 20 October 2014 | WikiTree Blog

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