If you have ever walked past an old building or historic house and garden and wondered what history lies behind those doors, or what life might have been like for those that lived there in years gone by, you may be able to find out this month!

Every year in September, places across the country, the majority of which are normally closed (or parts of them closed) to the public, throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history. It’s our chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – all of which are free of charge to explore!

Heritage Open Days is organised nationally by the National Trust and is England’s largest free festival of history and culture, bringing together over 2,000 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers from all walks of life – that’s one huge festival! This year’s festival runs from 13th to 22nd September and celebrates its 25th anniversary!

How did it all start?

Heritage Open Days started in 1994 and was inspired by its European equivalent, European Heritage Days. Since then, it has grown into the country’s largest heritage festival, growing from 701 events when it began, to over 5,000 today! It is a chance for communities nationwide to come together to learn, explore and have fun by sharing the treasures on their doorstep.

This year, there are hundreds of properties taking part in Heritage Open Days that are holding children’s and family activities for everyone to enjoy! By sharing all their stories, everyone involved can encourage children to learn about their heritage in all sorts of wonderful ways.

You can search for family-friendly Heritage Open Days activities that are happening in your area on the website here: heritageopendays.org.uk

As well as families learning about the heritage and culture of the built environment during Heritage Open Days, you could also hold your own themed activity at your setting, so you can celebrate all cultures and heritage, not just buildings!

My family tree

Over recent years, exploring family trees has become a really popular activity for many people. Family heritage is a great topic to use in your setting when children start to get an understanding of their own families and realise that all families are unique. It’s a great way to build the children’s self-esteem as they share ‘My Family Heritage’ with their classmates. It can also be used to celebrate the differences in people and build tolerance of those who are different. Learning about heritage in early years can get families involved in a good way!

You will need:

  • A world map attached to a board near your storytime area.
  • Push pins
  • A world globe
  • A picture atlas or book showing how different buildings (churches/castles etc) look in different countries.
  • Book - “Everybody Bakes Bread” by Norah Dooley (or similar)
  1. Explain to the children that a world map is the same as a globe, but flattened out. You can show where you live on both the globe and the map.
  2. Read a story book that illustrates that many people come from different places and cultures. Norah Dooley books are really good for this as they show that so many different recipes come from different countries and food is an easy way to introduce the children to different cultures! As you read the story, mark the places on the map where these recipes originated.
  3. Discuss with the children that each of them have ancestors (grandparents, etc.) that have come from other places. This usually encourages them to say things like, “I’m Polish!” or “My dad comes from Italy.”
  4. Explain that people learn skills and customs from their cultural heritage, passing it down through the family. People may seem different because of how they dress, what they eat and how they celebrate holidays. Give some examples of how your family heritage has influenced you.
  5. Let the children know that they have a task to do - to find out what countries their relatives came from and what famous food comes from that area. If they don’t have any family members originating from a different country, you could ask them if they have any friends from overseas. You could help them put a pin on the map of the different locations!
  6. Don’t forget to inform parents of the task!

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