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Using an Artifact to Tell about My Family

Choose an artifact from home that best represents a strong positive family memory.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

This critical challenge invites students to select an artifact that represents a strong family memory in order to further develop their understanding and appreciation of how changes over time have affected their families and influenced how their families and communities are today. Begin by reading aloud a story about the importance of objects from a person's past. (See References for suggested titles.) In the The Memory Horse, for example, an old carousel horse, Starflyer, is saved from destruction and lovingly refurbished by a grandfather and his granddaughter. Through the stories told by the grandfather about Starflyer–his late wife's favourite horse–the granddaughter learns about her grandmother's life. In discussing whatever story you have read to the class, consider the following questions:

  • What makes the object an item from the past?
  • Why does the object carry memories?
  • In what ways is it important to both older and younger people in the story?
  • How does the object bridge the past and the present?

As students consider the significance of object(s) in the story, help them to generate a list of criteria that objects must meet to be considered bridges to the past (e.g., is at least several years old, promotes understanding about the past for younger people). Bring several "bridging" objects to class. You may want to select sentimental objects of your own and encourage students to guess what the objects are and the strong positive family memory they represent for you. Relate the story behind each artifact and discuss its significance to your family, noting how it links the past to the present. Also available for viewing and discussion are artifacts on museum Websites (e.g., Archives in the Classroom, Library and Archives of Canada, McCord Museum). You may also wish to arrange a field trip to your local museum or invite someone from your local historical society to visit the class, bringing artifacts for students to examine.

After viewing a few artifacts, brainstorm with students where they might find artifacts and who might be a good source of them (e.g., grandparents, parents, antique dealers, relatives). Clarify that these artifacts need not be antiques in order to have past significance. Guide students to understand that the personal value of the artifact lies in its link to strong family memories. Through discussion, develop criteria for an artifact that contains a strong family memory (e.g., object has great meaning to the person or several people in the family, has a story attached, is often thought of, talked about and looked at, was an important part of everyday life or marked an important event in family life.) Explain that the students' task is to bring an artifact from home and present it to the class, explaining the artifact's significance and story. Prepare a letter to parents explaining the assignment, noting that if the object is valuable or fragile, a photograph could be brought in or an adult might bring the object to school. You may want to adapt the strategies and charts in Justifying My Choice (Support Material) to structure and assess each student's selection of an artifact.

Arrange for students to present their artifacts, describe their use, if necessary, and explain the family memory and how it links the past to the present. Remind students that something important in a family often depends upon their own cultural background and may differ from what is important to another family. If feasible, take photos of students with their artifact s and display them on a bulletin board with the title, "Linking the Past to the Present."

Adapted from Celebrating Families, edited by Mary Abbott, Carole Ford and Roland Case (Richmond, BC: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2002), 35–43.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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