I have done this activity in conjunction with the story The Hundred Penny Box for a number of years. (If you haven't read this heart-touching story by Sharon Bell Mathis, you really should!) Anyway, Aunt Dew in the story has an old box that contains pennies---1 for every year of her life. One of our vocabulary words for the book is PRECIOUS, and we really discussed how the box is precious to Aunt Dew but might not be precious to someone else. The same is true with the family artifact. It was an item that might or might not have monetary value, but it was precious to the child and his/her family.
This year, we had another great variety from the students. Antique sleigh bells from a great grandfather that the family rings before opening Christmas presents, a shaving cup from Sweden that a boy's father received from his grandfather, china from Japan that a soldier in Korea asked his army buddies to pick up for him so that he could get back to the States, Hindu god idols that students have displayed and use in their homes and were sent here from their family in India...
It always powerful to learn how completely different our backgrounds but how we are all drawn to those same small reminders of family and loved ones--things that would have no value to anyone else, yet to us...PRICELESS.
I usually choke up a couple of times during this activity. I point out to the students that the items are important to us because even though some of us never knew or met the person who the object originally belonged to, they are someone who makes us who we are. I share my artifact with them as a model. My grandfather's class book that he made of his 1928 graduating class from Beaver Crossing High School in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska. I am lucky to have a copy of his graduation ceremony program, and an announcement that he sent to his sister, too. All small items that would have little value to anyone else besides the fact that they are old, and the photographs of the 1928 graduates look like movie stars even though they were probably all farmers' daughters and sons and had never left Nebraska. However, even as I write this, thinking about that book makes me think of that wonderful loving man who made me laugh, played games with me, came to my music programs, and confided in me once that he thought of all of my sisters, I was the most like my mom. :) He is certainly one of the people who continues to make me who I am, just as my students are made by the pieces of the lives of the people who came before them.
Yet we are all together today.
Sometimes it is important to share our diversity so that we can appreciate how alike we really are.