A post over at Red Ravine asked readers to write about the circumstances of their birth. It got me thinking about an assignment that I used to give my students. I had 39 sixth graders. They were mostly from families where both parents worked and I got the feeling that the kids didn’t communicate with their parents very much. I wanted to change that. I’ve long loved writing memoir and one of the most fascinating subjects is something along the lines of “on the night that I was born”. I decided I was going to introduce some topics for the kids to write about that would require them to talk to their parents and “interview” them.
I found a couple of books to read to the kids. One of the books was Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born (tells about an adopted child and how her parents got the call that she was about to be born). The other is called Knots On A Counting Rope by Bill Martin Jr., et. al., in which a little Native American boy asks his grandfather to tell him about when he was born. We read them and discussed them and I brought up the way the kids asked the parents questions and the way the parents enjoyed talking to the kids about the subject. Then I gave them the assignment to interview their parents about the night/day they were born. The instructions allowed for the kids to ask a grandparent or other family member if their parents absolutely were not available. They had about two weeks to come in with a sheet of facts about when they were born. They worked on a first draft and then got feedback in small groups. Several more drafts were part of the assignment and finally, when they thought it was perfect, they turned in their final draft. The stories were wonderful and the kids truly enjoyed the assignment. Parents also enjoyed it, judging from the feedback I got from them.
That assignment was followed by two others, also designed at getting families to talk. One was “How My Family Came To This Country” and the other was about “How My Parents Met”. In the end, these writing assignments were put into book form by the kids and illustrated and became a part of our Open House display. The comments from everyone that came through the room were very positive and by the time they were finished, the kids and the parents had spent a lot of time (over several months) talking and discussing their families and customs, etc. All in all, it was a very positive experience.
If you haven’t done it, I recommend that you write about the night/day you were born. It’s also a neat project to write about how your family came to this country, whether it be ten years ago or two hundred years ago. If you know how your parents met, that’s another cool writing topic. And if you don’t know about these…maybe it’s time you go looking and asking and listening!
My own piece of writing surrounding this subject is a story I post at Christmas every year (my birthday is on Christmas Day) and I will be posting it again this year, probably on Christmas Day or maybe Christmas Eve.
(Previously posted on this blog in slightly different form.)