theme unit with activities, reproducibles, and tips for learning
Teaching About Families
By Dolores Choat
These days, units
on the family can include many fun activities but making the traditional
family tree isn't one of them. Families come in so many configurations
that a tree is no longer a workable way to think about families. In my
classroom, I've discovered that family activities need to be broader and
more accepting of the many types of families my students come from. The
following activities, focusing on family structure, members, homes, and
history, encourage children to be proud of their families-no matter what
family means to them.
To help students understand that families come in all shapes and sizes,
I start off with an activity where students create "button families."
They can find buttons that match in some way, put them together into families,
and glue them in a house made from construction paper. Once students have
created their families they can compare their button family members
the buttons may be the same color or have two holes, but be different
shapes and sizes.
Another way I introduce the concept of many types of families is by discussing
animal families. For example, we discover that seahorse and Emperor penguin
fathers not mothers nurture and protect the eggs. We discuss
other family structures found in the animal world, including young that
are cared for by extended family members, animals that live alone, and
"single-parent" families. Students can think about the ways in which the
traits of these animal families compare to those of human families.
When talking about students' families, I like to reinforce the idea that
differences don't mean better or worse. I begin by having students compare
their eyes, hair, heights, and other attributes. Students can discuss
the fact that these differences don't affect whether we like each other,
and that none of these attributes are right or wrong. Then, we discuss
the many kinds of families that exist. Individually, students create a
Family Circle diagram, with themselves in a center circle and other family
members on "rays" that emanate out. Students can include whomever they
wish people who live in primary and secondary residences as well
as those who don't. After they complete their diagrams, we discuss the
many types of families that are represented in our class.
The Shape of Families
This activity also reinforces the "no right or wrong family" concept.
On separate pieces of paper, draw a large rectangle and a large square.
Make photocopies and give one rectangle and one square to each student
to take home, along with several long pieces of string. Ask students to
measure each of their family members from the tip of the middle finger
on the left hand to the tip of the middle finger on the right hand, then
from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head. If the two measurements
are the same, the family member is a square. If the lengths are different,
the family member is a rectangle. On the sheets, students record all of
their family members' shapes. Students can then create graphs of these
results and, as a class, we determine if there are more squares or rectangles
among students' families.
This project gets my students thinking positively about the members of
their families. I provide each student with one coat hanger labeled with
his or her name, along with yarn and construction or drawing paper. Then
students draw and cut out faces of their family members. On the reverse
side of these drawings, I have students describe each family member positively.
These drawings can be attached to the hanger with yarn in any arrangement
Family Trait Chart
I start this activity by asking students to think about the different
kinds of facts that add up to a description of their family members. Often,
my students choose birthdays; relative heights and sizes; favorite/least
favorite colors, foods, and sports; and quirky abilities, such as tongue-rolling.
Students compile the information about their families and create their
charts, listing their family members down the left side, categories along
the top, and findings in the appropriate places. Once students complete
the charts, they can determine if there are patterns in family traits.
If possible, provide your students with a Polaroid cameras and film and
have them take turns taking pictures for "A Day/Week In the Life of My
Family" display. Students can photograph their family members, homes,
and activities during this day/week. If you don't have access to cameras,
students can keep a family journal, which can be presented in a storyboard
or cartoon format.
My students learn a lot about family customs with this activity. They
ask parents about a special family recipe, preferably one made for a family
celebration or holiday. Then they write a story about the recipe, its
history, when, how, and why it's made, and so on. Students can share these
recipes and stories with the class. This is a great time to discuss different
family traditions and holidays.
How to Make a Family Quilt
My class celebrates family by creating paper family quilts that highlight
all family members or as many as each student chooses to include.
You can reproduce and use the Quilt Square Master
for this activity, providing your students with as many squares as needed
(this will depend on the number of people in each student's family). You
can use the Quilt Square Master as is or have students cut out the
shapes and create their own quilt square pattern. In the center square,
students can draw a portrait of a member of the family pets included
and on the surrounding shapes, place special information about
that family member. Students can include information, such as special
memories of that family member, where and when the person was born, when
that person became part of the family, and so on. When the squares are
complete, students can tape them together and add "stitches" with black
Students can send specially made "Thinking of You" cards to elderly family
members, neighbors, or friends. I use this as an opportunity to discuss
the changes aging can bring about and start students sharing information
about the oldest members of their families.
Window Box Families
This activity is a student favorite. Kids create drawings of their families
and rooms in their homes, then incorporate special "windows" (like in
an Advent calendar) that highlight each family member. Here's how:
- Give each student
a sheet of paper.
- Have students fold
the paper in half horizontally, like a card.
- Ask students to
unfold the paper. On one inside half, they should draw family pictures,
including all family members and pets. The setting for each drawing
should be a room in the home; students should incorporate as much detail
about the room as they can.
- Next, students
refold the paper and outline boxes windows that will frame
their family members.
- They then cut three
sides of the window outlines so that each can be folded back to reveal
the faces of family members.
Students can make
more than one window box drawing if they live in more than one place (such
as father's and mother's homes in the case of shared custody after a divorce).
Writing About Grandpa
Grandpa Loved (Simon and Schuster, 1989), the award-winning book
by Josephine Nobisso, celebrates the relationship
between a child and his grandfather. You might want to share the following
information with your students before handing out the Meet
a Mentor reproducible about Josephine. Then invite students to share
feelings about their own grandparents.
Despite the book's
poignant, believable story line, Josephine herself grew up not knowing
her own grandfathers. "One grandfather died just before I was born, the
other passed away when I was just an infant," she says. Then why did Josephine
choose a grandfather as the book's central character? "The book takes
us to four different landscapes I love: the sea, the forest, the city,
and the family," she explains. "There's always a sense of nostalgia when
I'm in one and not the other. I thought, 'Who else to bring to the places
I miss the most than someone I most miss?' My grandfathers were alive
for me even though I never had them in the flesh. My family still accorded
them the love and respect as if they had been alive. And just as the grandfather
in the book will forever live on in the boy's heart, my grandfathers will
be with me always."
AGES & STAGES: DEVELOPMENTAL
"Children this age begin
to move from the family-oriented stage of development into the rough-and-tumble
world of peer relationships." Stanley Greenspan, MD,
Playground Politics (Addison-Wesley, 1993)
"A simple newsletter
can help families bond with the classroom. Use the last five minutes of
each school day to recap with students what they did that day. Record
their ideas onto a single piece of paper; copy and send home each Friday."
Kathy Faggella, co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the
Wall (Ideas Are Popping, 1994)