Connecting With Our Histories (1st Grade)

The Thought

Sometimes it is hard to understand why people move from place to place. The experience of finding a new home, making new friends, keeping your cultural heritage has been different for everyone entering the United States. Sometimes, however, we find that our emotions, hopes and memories have a lot more in common than we thought. Encouraging students to empathize with other people’s experiences is an important  first step. Learning about actual historical events and experiences that have shaped Asian and Pacific American communities through stories is a powerful way to widen our world views.


The introductory activities included in this section are intended for grades K-3. Students will explore through prioritization, reading comprehension, artistic engagement, class discussion and personal inquiry the beauty and struggle of taking a journey to find a new home and what it takes for families to set down roots and communities to thrive.


  1. Understand that personal stories are an integral part of history.
  2. Identify how stories convey emotion, spirituality, hopes, fears and resolution to problems.
  3. Recognize how to put into sequence everyday events and why the sequences become part of history.
  4. Connect personal outlook to making simple decisions and setting basic priorities.

Time Frame

Variable. Each activity requires a different amount of time and will be noted next to the activity title. Some activities ask that students to inquiries at home and follow up the next day by sharing their finding with their classmates. Each activity is designed to work in tandem with other activities or by themselves.

Activity: Asking Our Parents About Our History

Part 1: Class Discussion/ History Detectives

Understanding why people move from one country to the other takes asking that person directly. Sometimes that person is just not available or arrived so long ago, we can only find out through the stories families share from one generation to the next. It can often take the work of a serious detective to peel back the layers of history. To begin uncovering these family histories, we need to know what questions to ask.

  1. Why do people leave their homes and move to new countries? (to find work, to escape persecution, adventure, to build a better life than they had before, someone forced them to be here)
  2. When did your families arrive in the United States? Who came first? Do we know the year?
  3. What country or countries are our families from?
  4. When they first arrived, how hard or easy was it for them to live?

Sometimes in order to get the answer, we have to ask these same questions of our parents and other adults in our families. Ask your students to go home, ask their parents or guardians about who in their family came here first. How did they get here? Have they been here for thousands of years? What do you think they wore when they arrived in America?

It is critical to keep in mind that African American students and Native American students did not arrive here as immigrants. It will be important to not shy away from or gloss over these conversations, but rather to address them directly. One suggestion is to change the activity from immigrating to the country, to moving to Washington. For Native students, it can be the story of someone in their family who immigrated to another country, moved to a different state, or who is viewed as an important elder in their family.

You may also have students in your classroom who were adopted from other countries. One great way to have them complete the assignment is to show how they are the first– make the story about them!

Pick a day later in the week, for your students to come back with answers to these questions. The answers lead to the next part of the activity.

Part 2: What Did They Look Like, What Would They Say?

Puppets. Puppets are a great way to imagine our ancestors, the sound of their voices, their mannerisms. It may not be historically accurate, but it provides a chance for students to step back in time and put themselves in that part of their family history.


  • Socks or brown paper lunch bags
  • Markers
  • Glue
  • Googly eyes
  • Fabric to make clothes
  • Sequins or other decorative items

This class period they will transform their puppet into the very family member who first came to the country. Ask your students to think about what their character/family member would say about themselves. Have everyone pair up with another student and have the puppets interact with each other.

When you bring the class back together ask for volunteers to share what they learned about their classmate’s family.

Activity #2: Letter Cloud

At the museum we have a permanent installation, a cloud of actual letters written by people here in the United States and in countries of origin sent across the Pacific Ocean. Each letter tells the story of a family trying to stay connected, still helping each other out. For many of these authors, they were the first ones in their families to immigrate to a new country. These letters wave with the breeze of an invisible fan and sway to the sounds of ocean waves and sea gulls.


  • String
  • Postcard-sized blank white paper
  • Crayons, colored pencils or markers
  • Hole punch
  • Hand held fan

Your students will get to make their own letter cloud. (Of course, your students’ cloud doesn’t need to be so fancy!) Ask the students to draw two pictures.

  1. On one side of their letter, draw a picture of the first person in their family to immigrate to the United States. Have them write out that family member’s name as best they can
  2. On the other side, draw a picture of the one person, place or thing you think that family member missed the most when they came to America.

Before the next class period attach the string to each letter and hang them from the classroom ceiling. As part of the morning meeting, carpet time or however you have them gather, ask one student to gently wave the fan beneath the cloud. They are giving good thoughts to everyone who makes the journey to a new country and leaves something behind.

Baseball Saved Us
Ken Mochizuki

Angel Child, Dragon Child
Michele Maria Surat

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Autumn Moon Festival
Grace Lin

Apple Pie Fourth of July

Janet Wong

Going Home, Coming Home/Ve Nha, Tham Que Huong