an exclusive feature by Victoria Waller Ed.D.*
Connecting a child to his/her grandparent(s) by doing an oral history of them is probably one of the most wonderful activities a grandchild can do with grandparents. It can be done easily by having your grandchild make up questions (or use the ones here) to interview you about your life starting when you were a child. I’m sure they will find out all kinds of facts about you that even their own parents don’t know.
I saw the importance of the older generation in the lives of children and vice versa in the 90’s when I had my students connect by computer with the seniors in an assisted living facility in LA. Of course, these grandparents were 84-94 years old so their lives included life during the depression, five cent movies, hayrides, killing and cleaning chickens in their backyards, and keeping live fish in their bathtubs to make a fish meal for dinner.
Once I saw the impact of this project, I encouraged and taught my students to do oral histories of their own grandparents. I videotaped the students interviewing their grandparents. It was an amazing project for the child and for their grandparent.
This project can be easily done today with an iPhone, on Zoom or on FaceTime. Here is a set of questions for your grandchild to ask you; pick and choose the questions you want to answer, and which ones apply to your family.
- When and where were you born?
- What were your favorite subjects in school? Were you a good student?
- What activities did you do after school?
- What were your grandparents like?
- What did you do with your friends?
- What TV shows were your favorites? Which movies did you like?
- Do you have a favorite memory from your childhood?
- What important ideals or beliefs did your parents teach you?
- Who influenced you the most when you were a child?
- What games did you play as a child?
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
- Did you have any jobs when you were a teenager? Which one was your favorite?
- What is the happiest memory from your childhood?
- What was your favorite vacation when you were a child?
- How did you and Grandpa (ma) meet? Did you date a long time?
- Did you go to college, where, and what did you study?
- What made you choose the profession you chose?
- When did you start working?
- What is your opinion of all the electronics we use now? What did you use in school when you were my age?
- What is your favorite old song? What singer or group did you like when you were younger?
- Which city that you lived in, is your favorite?
- Where and when have you been the happiest?
- What have you learned from life that you’d like to tell me?
- What makes you happy? Sad?
- What activities do you like to do now?
- If you had your life to do over again, what would you do differently?
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?
One of the best letters I received 20 years after my oral history project was finished was from a former student’s mother,
“When my son was nine you did a project with him where he made up questions for his grandfather and then did an oral history of him. His grandpa, my dad, passed away recently. While cleaning out his apartment, I found the video marked, ‘Mikey and grandpa, never tape over.’ Mikey and I watched it yesterday, just a day after his 29th birthday. I’m sure we watched it many years ago, but I really didn’t remember it. It was so wonderful to see my dad again and learn stuff I never knew or had forgotten. So really, I can’t thank you enough for doing such a meaningful project with him. A gift to our family.”
Give a gift to your family by helping put together questions and having your grandchild interview you.
*Dr. Victoria Waller was awarded the Los Angeles Times “Local Hero Award” for her intergenerational oral history program. As an educator for over 40 years, Dr. Waller has taught thousands of students to read and write using their passions and strengths: sharks, roller coasters, rocket science, the Titanic and even Pokemon, to name a few. The children learn to read, but more importantly, “love” to read, which lasts a lifetime!