TELL ME A STORY; Preserving Family Histories

When I was teaching technology in a private elementary school, one of my favorite projects was this family history/art/literacy/social studies mashup. I began the project by telling the students a story my mom used to tell me about how she grew up on a farm at the edge of the ocean in Colombia, South America with my grandparents and her 3 brothers and 2 sisters. Each day they would all would wake up right before dawn and have breakfast, which consisted of a boiled egg and unpasteurized milk still warm, directly from the cow. Then the “girl”, sort of a nanny that was in charge of taking care of them, would march them all down to the ocean to bathe before they went to school or started their daily events. It all seemed so magically strange to me as a child and so incredibly different than our own morning routine.

My mom, abuela and great-aunts were always telling stories about their childhood and our family. The more I heard these stories, the more I realized what a rich history I was a part of. I’ve done my best to keep these stories alive through my art and re-telling to any one of my 3 children that will listen.

I presented the project to the students as an interview. A way for them to create questions that would provide them with knowledge about their families that they might not be aware of, they could choose anyone they wanted to interview. Most of them chose to contact grandparents, some of which were in other countries or states. They used email and phone calls to reach them. I was amazed at some of the stories that they were able to transcribe. I know they were pretty amazed themselves!

We learned about the grandfather who was taken hostage in the Middle East (he survived), the Hakka people of China, why a mom became a speech pathologist , early immigrant life in New York and so much more.

By sharing their stories, we all learned about geography, cultures, history and each other. Our older generation has a lot to say and some day we will be there as well, with our own stories to pass along.

This project is a great way to bring family together and preserve oral histories. Right now families are not just separated by distance, this is a great way to bring us all closer together to celebrate our humanity. We can now also go beyond email to Skype and zoom and interview family and extended family all over the world. What a wonderful way to learn that we all have stories to tell.

Click on the blue link for some prompts you can download to get you or your students started with the interview process: TELL ME A STORY The image on this page is of a book I made about my abuela Luisa, using the prompts.

If you’d like to see a step by step video on how to make an accordion book to preserve your family stories, visit Art Out of Anything on FB.  You can also subscribe to our You Tube channel for more project videos.

I hope you consider doing this project with your class, your family or on your own. You can always contact me at with any questions, schedule a full PD workshop or share your artwork.

Thanks so much for visiting and keep creating!



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