This fun family history activity for children or youth helps them celebrate their unique DNA pie chart—without taking a DNA test.
Not long ago I spent the evening with this lovely group of girls, doing a hands-on activity that combined family history, DNA and crafting. (Triple score!) It went beautifully and left everyone with some light bulb moments about how DNA inheritance connects us to our ancestors, and to each other.
I recommend this activity for Scouting groups, church groups (I did it with my Latter-day Saint Activity Days girls) and your own children or grandchildren.
DNA family history activity for kids
For each person you will need:
- A printed family tree chart
- Eight circles with a patterned print
- Four circles of a solid color A – let’s say Red, but it doesn’t matter
- Two circles of a solid color B – Let’s say Yellow
- One white circle
In the directions below you will see DO moments, for things your class should, well, do, and then TALK moments, where you can take a minute to help them understand what they are really up to. The TRY THIS are some ideas to customize this activity depending on your group.
DO: Have each person fill out their family tree as far out as they know it. Just names are fine.
DO: On the back of each of the patterned circles have them write the names of their great grandparents.
TALK: Have them look around the room at the different people with different patterns. You could talk about how the green pattern might represent the Irish DNA of a great-grandparent, or the blue represents Norwegian. When we did this, the girls immediately picked up on the fact that they must be related to each other because some of them had similar patterns. They could also immediately appreciate how some of them had more diverse backgrounds than others.
TRY THIS: If you are doing this activity with your family, you may want to consider giving everyone the same patterns that actually represent the DNA of their great grandparents and their origins, to make everything more realistic and applicable to your own genetic family tree.
DO: Choosing two circles representing the two great grandparents who got married, rip each circle in half, and glue the two different halves to one of the four red circles. Write the name of the resulting grandparent on the back of that circle. Repeat to “create” each of the four grandparents.
TALK: Explain that every person gets half of their DNA from their mom, and half from their dad.
TALK: Emphasize the story that is inherent in this DNA connection. These two people, possibly from very different backgrounds (especially if you are doing this game in the US) found each other and fell in love and got married. Don’t forget to tell the story!
TRY THIS: If this is your family activity, tell the real love story of at least one of these ancestors.
DO: Now take these newly made four circles and pair them according to who married who. Taking one pair, rip each one in half, gluing one half from each grandparent on one of the yellow circles. (Tip: have them rip so they get at least some of both colors in their half, but it doesn’t have to be exactly half).
ASIDE: It was at this point in the activity that one 9 year old girl looked up and exclaimed, “Oh! We are making us! Aren’t we?!” Light-bulb moment, my friends! That’s what this is all about.
DO: Taking your two yellow circles, rip them in half and paste them onto the white circle.
TALK: You have just created you! You should be able to see colors representing each of your 4 great-grandparents, but all arranged in a new and unique way. That is because each individual who has ever lived, or who will ever live, is 100% genetically unique (except identical twins, but even they actually have some differences). You are YOU, but you are you because of them, your ancestors.
Make sure you take lots of pictures! And if you do, we would love to see them. Just make sure you have the permission of the children’s parents if you want to share pictures of their children’s faces. Tag us on social media or send us a link!
Get inspired! Read more ideas for sharing your DNA stories with kids of all ages!
What a cute group of girls? How many are yours?
Thanks for all you do to help others understand their results
Thanks, Kent! Just one is mine, but I would claim them all!
Thanks you for reviewing up to date research and relating them to real life programs. Easy to share this information with our local historical society that wants to do summer programs for kids.
I’m so glad we could provide some help! That sounds like it will be a great program!