22 writing prompts that jog childhood memories

My childhood memories are rich and varied.

journal prompts, writing prompts, memories, childhood secrets, childhood memories

I loved visiting my grandma’s apartment, with its fringed window shades and faint smell of eucalyptus. Her desk drawers, lined in green felt, spilled over with card decks, cocktail napkins, and golf tees. Every door in the house was fitted with wobbly crystal doorknobs. The bathroom smelled of Listerine.

My brother and I would sleep in the small bedroom off the kitchen—the very room our mom shared with her own brother growing up in the north side of Chicago.

I can picture myself reaching way down into Grandma’s frost-filled chest freezer for the ever-present box of Eskimo Pies. Her well-stocked pantry and doily-covered tabletops contained loads of delectable treats I was often denied at home: pastries, chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, and delicate bowls of jellied orange sticks and other candy.

This was the 1960s, long before big-box stores came on the scene. Together Grandma and I would walk to the corner of Roscoe and Broadway, where we’d explore the wonders of Simon’s Drugstore, Heinemann’s Bakery, and Martha’s Candies.

Those childhood memories of my grandma are largely synonymous with food.

In my mind’s eye, I can still picture driving from Illinois to Wisconsin beneath a canopy of crimson leaves against an blindingly blue sky. I remember Passover dinners with a million Jewish relatives in the basement of some wizened old uncle’s apartment building. Other childhood memories recall the mysteries of new baby brothers coming on the scene, building a hideout among the branches of a fallen tree, and giving my best friend’s parakeet a ride down the stairs in her aqua Barbie convertible.

It’s good to write down our recollections. As vivid as the moment seems at the time, memories fade. These prompts will help jog them. Invite your older children to participate. They’re in closer proximity to their memories, and can usually remember the details more vividly.

There are no rules: Jot your thoughts in snippets or write them out diary-style. Either way, do your best to recall the sensory details that made the moment important, for it’s those little things that keep the memory alive.

22 Writing Prompts That Jog Childhood Memories

  1. Describe one of your earliest childhood memories. How old were you? What bits and pieces can you recall?
  2. Who was your best childhood friend? Write about some of the fun things you used to do together.
  3. Can you remember your mom’s or grandmother’s kitchen? Use sight and smell words to describe it.
  4. Describe the most unusual or memorable place you have lived.
  5. Did you have your own bedroom growing up, or did you share with a sibling? Describe your room.
  6. Were you shy as a child? Bossy? Obnoxious? Describe several of your childhood character traits. How did those qualities show themselves? Are you still that way today?
  7. What childhood memories of your mother and father do you have? Describe a couple of snapshot moments.
  8. Write about a holiday memory. Where did you go? What did you do? What foods do you remember?
  9. Describe your favorite hideaway.
  10. Did you attend a traditional school, or were you educated at home? Describe a school-related memory.
  11. Think of a time when you did something you shouldn’t have done. Describe both the incident and the feelings they created.
  12. Have you ever needed stitches, broken a bone, or been hospitalized? Describe a childhood injury or illness.
  13. Do you have quirky or interesting relatives on your family tree? Describe one or two of them.
  14. Describe your most memorable family vacation. Where did you go? Did something exciting or unusual happen? Did you eat new or unique foods?
  15. Did you grow up with family traditions? Describe one.
  16. Books can be childhood friends. What were some of your favorites? Why were they special?
  17. Describe a game or activity you used to play with a sibling.
  18. What were some of your favorite television shows as a child?
  19. What was your most beloved toy? Describe its shape, appearance, and texture. What feelings come to mind when you think of that toy?
  20. Think of a childhood event that made you feel anxious or scared. Describe both the event itself and the feelings it stirred up.
  21. Write about some sayings, expressions, or advice you heard at home when you were growing up. Who said them? What did they mean? Do you use any of those expressions today?
  22. What are your happiest childhood memories? Describe one event and the feelings associated with it.

What’s one of your most vivid childhood memories? Share a snippet in the comments!

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Lisa M, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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15 comments ↓

#1 Julie on 04.17.13 at 9:34 am

Hey Kim,
This post is perfect timing for me! The Mosaic Reviews team is in the process of reviewing a new app called Saving Memories Forever. (It’s an app that allows you to interview and record family stories.) Would you mind if I include a link to this post on my review? These are great ideas to incorporate into a collection of family stories.

#2 Kim on 04.17.13 at 9:59 am

Absolutely, Julie! Link away! {and what a fantastic idea for an app}

#3 Tara Jenner on 04.17.13 at 10:39 am

I was born in September 1962. My earliest memory was when the TV was on and they were crying. At the time I thought they were crying because of my ear ache since I was hurting and crying. I remember that the TV was Black and White and there was a little boy saluting a big thing covered in an American flag. It was JFK’s funeral!

For years my mother thought that I was just remembering photos I saw from Time magazine of the funeral, but one day I was telling her about it and described the floor plan of the house. Needless to say she was floored, as we moved from that house not long thereafter never to return! So I guess I was just under 1 year and 2 months old.

#4 Kim on 04.17.13 at 11:10 am

Wow, that’s pretty incredible, Tara! I remember JFK’s assassination clearly, too. I was 9, though, so the memory is probably sharper. But I don’t think I have any memories of my childhood before age 3 or 4.

#5 Elizabeth Knaus on 05.26.13 at 12:25 pm

There were eight in our family. Nine if you count Grandma who was with us on weekends for church. The earliest memory I have was walking underneath the duncan phyfe dining room table and hitting my head on one of the corners from spaces created when the extra leaves are used. Considering the height of a table, this would have been 1962 when I was about one year old according to the average height for that age. From then on, I began to pay more attention to everything. Unfortunately it doesn’t all stick (fortunately, in some cases)!

#6 Twitch on 10.08.13 at 7:05 am

i am doing a school paper and this helped me alot thanks

#7 Kim on 10.08.13 at 7:38 am

Glad to hear it, Twitch!

#8 Rebecca on 01.28.14 at 9:13 pm

I recently discovered your post and it inspired me to pick up a journal I’ve had for a few years. It is for my daughter. I’ve written quite a bit, but this gives me some new material to include.

Also, you might enjoy this story. Several years ago, I gave my grandmother an empty scrapbook for Christmas. Inside was a note asking that she write down stories and memories from her life. I included a list of questions to get her started. And I requested that she return it to me the next year for Christmas.

She had talked of writing things down for years, but had never taken the time. My request gave her the excuse she needed. And the following year I received the best Christmas present ever – after the gift of our Lord, of course. She had included some pictures and poems in addition to answering my questions. Even now, I discover little tidbits of information that I missed in my first few readings.

It was only a few years later that she developed Parkinson’s disease, lost her memory, and passed away. My family has made several copies of that book, written in her own, beautiful handwriting. It is truly a family treasure.

#9 Kim Kautzer on 01.30.14 at 7:17 am

This is beautiful, Rebecca. We can never go back and reclaim those stories. What a blessing that the Lord prompted you to give your grandmother the journal and questions. You will indeed treasure that book forever!

#10 Kerry Kuss on 05.22.14 at 8:43 pm

I am new to journaling so this advice is precious. I started writing small family stories to a niece, to keep in touch. I enjoyed it so much, and I was surprised what memories that drew out. Now I think keeping a journal, might jog more memory, and also record some stories that the younger generation might enjoy, now and later. My most treasured memory is visiting an aunt, feeling I was always safe there. It’s probably the only memory that I can describe in feelings, and all my senses. I think your prompts are going to save even more memories. i thank you!

#11 Kim Kautzer on 05.23.14 at 12:56 pm

Kerry: I’m so excited that you’re dipping your toe in the waters of journaling. I love that you’re able to capture those sweet memories of your aunt with feelings. Hoping some of the other prompts will help jog even more. Happy writing!

#12 Jen White on 06.20.14 at 6:46 pm

Reading your list and comments from others reminded me that my mother made some notes of family things she remembered and wanted me to have (she was about 88 at the time.) Because of this article, I will look for it! I’m sure it’s in my files somewhere. I hadn’t thought of it despite my years of doing family research! Must find! Thanks! (Am also copying your list of questions into my Evernote file to prompt further thoughts!)

#13 Kim Kautzer on 06.23.14 at 9:36 am

Happy to be a catalyst, Jen! I hope you find your mom’s notes. What a treasure that will be!

#14 jessica on 08.14.14 at 9:03 pm

i’m looking forward to using your 21 ‘writing prompts’ guide. i’m a working mom and a wife with busy all around and love to read and write…most days the story or journal entry is logged in my head. part of my problem is i have all these cute little journals and i’m stuck with what story goes in what journal? silly. any thoughts? :)

#15 Kim Kautzer on 08.15.14 at 10:19 am

Jessica: I’d be overwhelmed by too many journals, cute as they are! If it were me, I might have one journal to record old family stories and memories and a separate one for current journaling.

Beyond that, you might enjoy keeping a journal for each of your children in which you write letters to them from time to time (monthly? on their birthdays? randomly?). Or, it could be a journal in which you write back and forth to each other. Here are two suggestions for how to do that:

Becoming Your Child’s Pen Pal

Conversation Journals

Thanks for visiting!

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