The down days of late winter are a perfect time for family projects, especially projects that connect the newest generation with relatives and ancestors from another era.
Here are three ideas for making memories that will transcend a lifetime.
"Plant" a family tree
Pay tribute to your ancestors and origins by creating an unconventional family tree.
Start with an empty, 10-pound, industrial tin can and a pile of foraged, strong, tree branches. Pour a little quick-set concrete in the bottom of the tin and immediately set in the branches so they create a tree.
Have the kids go through family photographs, collecting photos of as many different people as possible.
"I did this with my first-graders when we were studying family, and it's an opportunity for them to keep their grandparents, uncles and cousins straight," says Robin Hawley, a teacher at Willow Wind Community Learning Center in Ashland.
"By going through all those photos with their moms and dads, they learned stories about where the relative lived, why the relative wore that outfit and when that relative was alive."
Attach the photos to construction paper, loop a string or yarn through and hang them on the tree like an ornament. The results will astound you.
"The kids started having a relationship with someone they never knew, even if they were dead," recalls Hawley. "I'd have a student come in and say something like, 'My great-great or great-great-great-grandfather had a birthday in February just like me!' There was a sense of belonging to something beyond just themselves and their house."
Frame your family
Scrapbooks, shadow boxes, collages and framed photographs show off the family in style.
"Not only can you value your piece up on the wall, you get the joy of preserving it for another generation," says Nicole Hurley, co-owner of Bohemia Gallery & Framing in Ashland.
Several tips will make your project more successful. First is determining the size and type of project. Second is obtaining acid-free, removable materials and accents. Hand-stitching mementoes onto your surface will further their life; adhesives are messy and can corrode delicate fabrics and paper.
Hurley recommends starting with more items than you think you'll need — it's easier to eliminate pieces as the final product takes shape.
"You want to make it all relate to each other to really illustrate a story," she says. "But you can only fit so many things without it being overwhelming. You want just enough to focus on."
Sports memorabilia, wedding accessories, baby shoes and christening dresses, Cub Scout uniforms, a child's artwork, family photos — these are all precious memories that can be preserved as a piece of art.
"Right now is a great time for people do these projects because you can find scrapbooking and archival materials at most craft stores and even department stores," says Hurley.
For professional help, bring your idea to a framer. He or she can design and build the project or help by cutting materials, providing guidance and possibly supplying some materials.
"Taking the time to do these things together gives children a lot of pride," Hurley says. "There's something really special about showing your kids that their crayon drawing is a masterpiece."
Make a memory marker
Invite loved ones on a tour of memories by creating a pathway of custom stepping stones.
"It actually started as a project I did with my niece one summer when she was visiting from Washington," says Robin Hawley, of a hobby that's become a way to connect with a special great-aunt and niece who have both died.
"We collected all these things from around my house — like old, broken necklaces and earrings and broken plates. I had saved the broken plates because they had been my great-aunt's."
Although stepping-stone kits are available, Hawley started from scratch by buying several circular, thick, plastic, plant plates and a bag of quick-set concrete. Mix small batches of concrete in a five-gallon bucket and pour it into the plant plates.
"Have your accessories ready ... you need to put them into the concrete immediately because the concrete sets up fast," Hawley advises. Adornments might include rocks from special trips, jewelry worn by relatives who have passed away, flat silverware, interesting pieces of hardware, trivets, porcelain and bibs and bobs from the thrift store that remind you of someone you love.
Let the stepping stone dry for 24 hours, then invert the tray to loosen your creation. Set them in a pathway or in a garden. "If you make several, you can use them as paver stones," says Hawley. "Or you can put them into a garden bed as a decoration or as a place to stand when you're weeding around it."
Looking at the memory markers facilitates both grief and remembering.
"There's a sense of accomplishment in the statement that I'm not going to forget," Hawley says. "It feels like a tribute, like a conscientious regard for someone you love."
The biggest benefit of creating art projects with your kids? The stories you share will live on in their supple minds, ready to pass down to yet another generation.