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Then & Now

"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past."

T.S. Eliot

We can measure time, but this gives us no guarantee that we understand what time is. Time is one of those eternal, deep mysteries. No one can say exactly what it is. The time of the clock is useful, but there are other kinds of time -- the time of consciousness, the time of memory.

Not all cultures define or experience time in the same way. It really depends where you put your emphasis. Obviously, there are a number of phenomena in nature -- like the waxing and waning of the moon, the succession of day and night, the regular rising and setting of the stars, the pattern of the seasons -- that support a view of time as essentially cyclical in nature. But there are certain facts of life, like the physical changes that come with aging, that tend to support a view of time as being not only linear, but as moving in a single direction, from the past through the present and onwards to the future.

Our ability to measure time is what makes our way of life possible. One way to think about time is to imagine a world without time. This timeless world would be at a stand-still. But if some kind of change took place, that timeless world would be different "now" than it was "then." The period, no matter how brief, between "then" and "now" indicates that time must have passed. Thus, time and change are related because the passing of time depends on changes taking place. In the real world, changes never stop happening. Some changes seem to happen only once, like the falling of a particular leaf. Other changes happen over and over again, like waves hitting a shoreline. Some changes are continuous but almost imperceptible, like aging. Any change that takes place again and again in a set pattern, like the rising and setting of the sun, stands out from other changes, and can help us measure time.

Exploring changes across time is often how we can come to better understand our lives and the world around us. There are actually four dimensions of time that affect people as they live their entire life: life time (chronological age); family time (events and roles within the family); social time (cultural expectations); and historical time (socio-cultural era).

Some storybooks that explore time, from a personal to a historical perspective: When I Am Old With You by Angela Johnson; When I Was Little Like You by Jill Paton Walsh; Imagine That! by Janet Wilson; When I Was Young by James Dunbar; Homeplace by Anne Shelby; A Street Through Time by Anne Millard.

Activities: Life Layers; Daily Schedules; I Have Been Young, I Will Be Old; Past & Present Brainstorming; Times Change; Cost Comparison; Comparing Past, Present, Future; What a Wonderful World.


Life Layers

Suggested Activity Timing: Can be started during a Grandparents Day event, and completed at home.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History; Health; Family Fun "Homework."

What You Need: Copies of the "Life Layers" sheet; different colored fine-tipped pens.

Doing It:

The lines on the "Life Layers" sheet represent a person's life, with the different decades marked off. The arrows indicate the flow of a person's life through the layers. The sheet helps a person map the changes that have taken place over their lifetime and see how the layers of their life experiences have brought them to where they are today.

During a Grandparents Day event, grandparents and grandchildren can work together to fill in parts of the "Life Layers" sheet to map the grandparent's life. This activity works particularly well with teenagers. The idea is to create a "picture" of the grandparent's life, and generate discussion and storytelling. It gets grandparents thinking about their own lives, and helps teenagers understand how lives evolve and change over time.

In general, you can use words, symbols, and drawings to sketch your journey through the life layers. Be as creative as you like. Here are the basic steps:

  • Write in your name and birth date.

  • Different information goes above the lines and below the lines...

  • Above the lines, write in the names of your children and grandchildren at the time in your life when they were born. If you wish, you can include the dates.

  • Still working above the lines, in another color of pen, note other significant life events, milestones, and transitions (e.g. when you went to college, graduated college, got married, got first job, retired, etc. as well as historical events, like war, which had an impact on your life).

  • Below the lines, in yet another color of pen, identify opportunities that made a difference in your life (e.g. promotion, new job), obstacles that you had to deal with (e.g. illness, losing a job), and "unexpected delights" (things you didn't plan or expect, but that just happened).

  • What do you see? What have been the critical times of your life? Are certain times of your life more "crowded" or "full" than others? How have your life experiences layered on each other to bring you to where you are today?

  • Now, look at the time left on the map of your life. What else would you like to do? Write in your ideas in another color of pen.

Extension: A grandparent can help their teenage grandchild fill in their own "Life Layers" sheet, putting in what's happened in their life so far, and what they think may happen in the future. This helps teenagers start to plan their own life.


Daily Schedules

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies; Health.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

What's your "typical" day like? Our days are influenced by the historical time period in which we live. For example, before industrialization, most people stayed home to work their farm, or they lived in a very small village and perhaps had a shop with rooms above or behind it to live in. With industrialization, people had to leave their homes every day to go elsewhere -- to the office or to a factory with special equipment -- to work. Now, with computers, fax machines, and e-mail, more and more people are working from their homes again.

During a Grandparents Day event, grandchildren can write out what they do on a typical day. What time do you get up? When do you have breakfast? What do you do after breakfast? When do you go to school? When is recess and lunch? When does school end? What happens after school? When do you eat dinner? When do you go to bed? Then, make a list of the typical things you do in school, the activities or sports you participate in, the things you do for fun, and the chores you have to do at home.

Grandparents can complete a list of the same items for their "typical day" when they were the grandchild's age.

How are the daily schedules the same? Different? How much of the daily schedule is similar versus how much is different? You can make a Venn diagram (two large circles, with parts of the circles overlapping in the center) on a sheet of paper for easier comparison. Label one circle as the grandchild and the other as the grandparent. Things that are the same for both go in the central overlapped part, while things that belong just to the grandparent or just to the grandchild go into their circle where there is no overlap with the other circle.


I Have Been Young, I Will Be Old

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, and also during the event.

Curriculum Connections: Health; Social Studies; Art.

What You Need: Large, stiff paper plates; markers, crayons, and/or pencil crayons; cotton balls; yarn; buttons; popsicle sticks; glue; scissors.

Doing It:

Today's children are tomorrow's older adults. But somehow we don't think of ourselves that way, do we? Yet aging, although it happens very slowly, is one of the most evident signs of time passing in an individual's life.

Many of the storybooks at the end of this kit look at aging over time. Read some of them before a Grandparents Day event. I like to use three particular storybooks to explore the ideas of changes, aging, and time. Simple now-and-then comparisons in When I Was Little Like You by Jill Paton Walsh can open a number of discussions. In Stranger in the Mirror by Allen Say, Sam goes to bed as a normal young boy and wakes up as an old man. In Grandpa's Face by Eloise Greenfield, Grandpa practices different faces for a play (i.e. he changes his face over a short period of time) but he and his love for his granddaughter don't change.

During a Grandparents Day, start with a general discussion about physical changes over time. Ask grandparents to remember what they looked like in high school. What did their face look like? Their hair? What was their weight and height? What clothes did they wear?

Then remind children that fifty years from now, they'll look different. Ask them to look at their grandparents and think about how they might look. What will your face look like? Your hair? How much do you think you'll weigh and how tall will you be? What kinds of clothes do you think you'll wear?

After the discussion, grandparents and grandchildren can make paper plate masks of each other. Look closely at each other and point out special features like glasses, beards, freckles. Then use markers, crayons, pencil crayons, cotton balls, yarn, and buttons to make each other's faces on paper plates. Glue a popsicle stick to the back of the plate at the bottom so that you can hold the mask in front of your face. When you finish each other's masks, try them on and then switch. How do you look?


Past & Present Brainstorming

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencil; watch with second hand or a stopwatch.

Doing It:

Have a group brainstorming session with grandparents and grandchildren during a Grandparents Day event. This can be a fast-paced, fun activity.

Write out the headings "past" and "present" (they can be on the board so that everyone does the activity as a group, or grandparent/grandchild teams can write down ideas on their own sheets of paper).

For each category below, people have 1 minute to brainstorm as many examples as possible for the past. Then they have another minute to brainstorm examples for the present. "Past" is defined as anything from 20 to 80 years ago; "present" is anything within the last 20 years to today.

The categories are:

Popular Movies
Hottest Movie Stars
Popular Songs
Hottest Singers or Bands
World Series Winning Teams
Hottest Sports Figures
Olympic Sites
Coolest Cars
Popular Candy Bars
Popular Toys

Start by doing one category for the past. Grandparents can take the lead in calling out or writing down as many examples as possible before the time is up. Then do the same category for the present, with grandchildren taking the lead in calling out or writing down as many examples as possible before the 1 minute is up.

Take a break as everyone compares the past and present items for the category. Then move on to the next category.


Times Change

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History.

What You Need: Internet.

Doing It:

Nothing stays the same. For example, here's an anonymous poem about grandparents:

In the dim and distant past
When life's tempo wasn't so fast,
Grandma used to rock and knit,
Crochet, tat and baby sit.

When the kids were in a jam,
They could always call on Gram.
But today she's in the gym
Exercising to keep slim.

She's checking the web or surfing the net,
Sending some e-mail or placing a bet.
Nothing seems to stop or block her,
Now that Grandma's off her rocker.

How have grandparents themselves changed over the years? What do grandparents remember about their grandparents? How are they different than their grandparents? Do grandchildren think they will be like their grandparents when they become grandparents? How will they be the same or different?

Compare the present to decades from the past. As part of a Grandparents Day event, or any time, grandchildren can play "tour guide" for their grandparents on the Internet. Visit kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decades.html. This is a fantastic website with photos and historical information (e.g. fashion & fads, historic events, art, books, music, film & TV) on each of the decades of the twentieth century. Grandparents can pick the decade they grew up in and take a stroll down memory lane, and children can compare the present to the time their grandparents grew up.


Cost Comparison

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Math; Social Studies.

What You Need: "Prices Then & Now" table; paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

Grandparents and grandchildren can compare present prices to prices when the grandparents were growing up. The "Prices Then & Now" table is a useful reference. Aside from the categories in the table, you can also compare the price of a candy bar, a soft drink, an apple, a meal in a restaurant, a newspaper, a movie, a bicycle, and anything else you can think of.

Calculate the percentage increase for each item (i.e. subtract past price from current price; divide the difference by the past price; multiply by 100). Have some items gone up more than others? What's gone up the most? The least? Has anything stayed about the same? How have increases in average income compared to increases in the costs of goods and services?

Using the table, you can also calculate and compare increases over 20 year increments. Have prices increased steadily or have there been significant jumps during certain periods? Are you surprised at any prices? Do you think average income has increased enough?


Comparing Past, Present, Future

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies/History.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

This activity can prompt intergenerational dialogue on what and how things change, and what and how things stay the same. During a Grandparents Day event, young and old can use their memory and their imagination to compare past, present, and future. Examples and ideas can be written on the board.

Make a list for each of the categories below for: 1) the past (older people can contribute based on the years they were growing up); 2) the present (children can be encouraged to contribute here); and 3) the future (involve both children and grandparents in using their imaginations to create the future).

  • Food: Where and how do you get food? What kinds of foods are available (e.g. fruits, vegetables, types of bread, snacks)? What do people eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What's your favorite food?

  • Clothing: What do women wear? Men? Where do they get their clothes? How do clothes fasten (e.g. buttons, zippers, velcro)? What do people wear on their feet?

  • Toys: What games do children play? What toys are there? Where do the toys come from? How many toys do children have?

  • Transportation: How do people get around? How do they travel short distances? How do they travel long distances? Do they have to travel a long way to work? Do they travel long distances a lot, or stay close to home?

  • Appliances/Computers: What are the common appliances in homes? How many appliances use electricity? Are there computers? How many people have computers? What are the computers used for?

  • Lifestyle: What do people do every day? Do women work outside the home? If so, what kind of work do they do? Who takes care of the children? Where do children go to school? Do they walk or take a bus? What do people do for fun? How much time do they spend cooking and cleaning? Do they spend more time at home or at work?


What a Wonderful World

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, and during.

Curriculum Connections: Language Arts; Music.

What You Need: A copy of the book What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss and Bob Thiele; Louis Armstrong's recording of the song.

Doing It:

What a Wonderful World is a classic "old" song that's very familiar to parents and grandparents. But it's also one that children will enjoy. It's one of those songs that's timeless, that can bring young and old together very effectively.

Play Louis Armstrong's version of the song for children. Then share the book and talk about the song's message.

Use the book and song as the basis for developing an interactive presentation that can be part of a Grandparents Day event. In the book, the children in the illustrations put on a puppet play based on the song's lyrics. Children can make their own puppets and put on a play similar to the one in the story.

During an event, young and old can sing Louis Armstrong's version of the song together in a sing-along. Children can also develop and present a "rap" version of the song as a way to share a modern musical form with their parents and grandparents.

Extension: Talk about people's other favorite songs and what memories they associate with them.

From Grandparents Day Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2001, www.somethingtoremembermeby.org

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