I found a world map that came free with one of my National Geographic subscriptions, and I pinned it to a wall, making sure that it was at a height at which the kids could see and interact with it. The rest of the supplies consisted of different colored yarn or string, tape, scissors and pushpins.
First, I helped the kids identify the United States on the map, and we found the city in which we live. Because we watched some of the recent Olympics, they sort of understand what a different country is, and I explained that, on the map, the countries are shown in different colors. Then, I pointed out Europe, we got out our pushpins, and talked about where each grandparent's ancestors came from. (To introduce the concept of an ancestor to your child, see this post.)
We put pushpins on each European country where their ancestors came from - Germany, France, Italy, Croatia, and Poland. (Supervise the kids closely with the pushpins; you could even use small stickers instead, if you are worried about them getting hurt.) My kids are pretty much European mutts, but even if your family's ancestors originated from one nation, this is still a fun and educational activity to do with kids. At one point, my son asked me, "Why aren't we putting any pins here (*points to China*) or here (*points to Russia*)," and I explained to him that if our family HAD come from those parts of the world, we WOULD put them there, but that's just not the case for us.
The next step was to place pushpins in America as the ancestors' "final destination." If you want to keep it simple, you can place one pin in America and that is fine. However, I wanted my kids to understand that the ship couldn't land in the middle of the country (Ohio) where our ancestors ended up - I wanted them to realize that it had to stop at the coastline. So, we put pins in the port cities where the ships landed - New Orleans, Baltimore, New York.
Then, we connected the European push pins to the American push pins with yarn. We used a different color to represent the different 'branches' of our family. We divided it up by their four grandparents. I created a map 'key' so we would know which color matched which grandparent. (My 6yo can read this key, but I think I may add small photos of each grandparent, so my 3yo can know which color represents which grandparent, too.) This portion of the exercise was a bit more ambitious than it needed to be, and it is not necessary to go into such detail, especially with younger kids. Using just one color of yarn for all ancestors will work just fine, if you want to keep it simple.
Within my map stash, I also found a larger wall map of just the United States. At some point, I'd like to hang that one up, too, and maybe talk with the kids about HOW and WHY our family ended up in Ohio. We could again use push pins and yarn to connect the port cities to Ohio, and talk about the different types of transportation people used before cars, and even before trains, in the case of several of my husband's ancestral families.
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder.