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5 Summer Family History Activities You Need to Try

It hardly takes any prep work to make campfires a super fun and memorable way for kids to connect with their roots! Each of these summer family history activities has one or more ways to help your kids connect with their ancestors. Pick and choose which activities you think your kids will enjoy based on their age or interests and have a great time! 

Summer Family History Activity #1

 Make Fire!

a campfire

I know, I know. You saw that coming a mile away! Hear me out: your kids may not have thought about how indispensable fires were to their ancestors. They absolutely needed fire so they could eat! So we’ll start here, since the rest of your fun summer family history activities revolve around this step.

How did my ancestors make fire?

Let’s see how much your kids know about the origin of fire. Do they know matches weren’t around back in the day? Fire was very hard to make, so they tried not to ever let it go out. In the late 1800’s they would bury their wood/coals in the ashes to keep it hot enough to start a fire again the next day. If the fire accidentally went all the way out, they would have to walk to a neighbor’s house (sometimes miles away) to “borrow fire.” We’ve had to borrow a cup of sugar before, but never fire! How would they get the fire back to their place, you ask? Why, in a cast-iron frying pan of course! Those suckers were heavy, and with the walking distance I imagine they tried very hard not to let the fire go out! 
 
When pioneers were traveling on the plains, wood was hard to come by so they used buffalo chips. Yes, that’s code for buffalo poop. It took about three and a half bushels of it to make a good campfire. Often women would use their aprons to gather it up and carry it back.  If you were a pioneer kid, you’d better behave or you might get assigned to collection duty!
 
Before you run off asking your neighbors to borrow some fire or scour the neighborhood for buffalo chips, do yourself a favor and remember we now have matches (and gasoline). If you need a refresher, here’s how to make modern day fire. 

Summer Family History Activity #2

Cook over the fire

dutch oven cooking as a summer family history activity

Have your kids ever wondered how their ancestors survived without a microwave? Or an OVEN?! (Or takeout pizza?) Dutch ovens became super important to those crossing the plains, and they are still in use today! If you don’t have a dutch oven, here are some other fun things to cook over the fire:

  • Foil dinners are so fun to cook over the coals of your fire, and kids love to make their own food creations!
  • Hot dogs are a simple yet fun thing to cook outside.
  • S’mores, a campfire classic that you can do traditionally or spice it up with different types of candy bars and marshmallows. My favorite variation is replacing regular chocolate with Andes mints. Something I want to try next time is pretzels instead of graham crackers and caramel instead of chocolate (or maybe just in addition). My favorite way to find new combos is to search on Etsy for S’mores Bar Menus.
  • Starbursts. This is something I picked up at college. I’d never even thought to do this but it’s kid of fun to try!
  • Marshmallows – it doesn’t get easier than this! But grab those wet wipes first…

Don’t get too excited. Cooking needs to be done over the coals, so while the flames of your fire are burning bright you can try some of the following summer family history activities!

foil dinner cooking in the fire

Summer Family History Activity #3

Shadow Puppets

Your ancestors had to find ways to entertain themselves with what they had around them. They rarely had actual toys, and when they did they were often handmade. Your hands are always with you…I wonder if they made shadow puppets and told stories with their hands?  When it comes to summer family history activities, this is just about as “hand made” as it gets! While the flames of your fire are still going strong, try out some of these fun shadow puppets. For an added layer of fun, others could guess the animal you are trying to make…but instead of guessing with words, they can guess by making the animal sound!
Play Video

Summer Family History Activity #4

Tell Stories

girl reading from a book

Everyone likes a good story, am I right? You could start with telling stories about family members your kids know. That’s family history! If you have extended family at your campfire, this is when the best stories seem to come out. Be ready to record them! Most of these really great stories about people we know and love aren’t saved, so take a couple seconds and whip out your phone to audio record them while you’re telling them to the kids! Not sure how? Here’s a quick video that shows you how easy it is to audio record your memories

You could also read a short story from a family history book or easily find stories on FamilySearch!

Summer Family History Activity #5

Music

People around the campfire with a person playing guitar

Music in any form is a great way to help kids connect with their family history. And no, you don’t need to have actual talent! If you don’t have a musical bone in your body, play some songs on a speaker from when you were a kid. You could  also play some songs from the 20’s (or any decade you enjoy!) and tell your kids who in your family was alive during that time. Here’s a list of some fun ideas for incorporating music into your campfire:

  • Camp Songs – Anyone been to scout camp or girls camp as a kid? Sing some of those fun songs with your kids! Your history is their history.
  • Lullabies – sing some songs or lullabies your parents sang to you.
  • Family Songs – Are there any songs that are regularly sung in your family? Teach them to your kids and if they already know them, sing together!
  • Hymns – do you have any favorite family hymns? If you have pioneer ancestors, they likely sang hymns on their journey to keep spirits up.
  • Instruments – if you play an instrument that can be easily brought out, share a song or two with your kids!

Don’t forget you don’t have to sing to enjoy music from your family history! In addition to the ideas above, you could also play some traditional songs or national anthems from countries your ancestors came from.

For those days it’s too hot to go outside or when you just need some time at home, a family history activity kit might be just what you need! No planning for you, lots of fun for them!