Back to We Are Family Theme page
Teaching About Families
Ruth Bilbe & Naomi Kornman
To help show that families come in all shapes and sizes, we turn students loose on our button collection and ask them to find buttons that match in some way. Students put these buttons together into families and glue them onto cutout construction-paper houses. Then they describe what makes their buttons a family (for example, the same color and two holes, despite different shapes and sizes).
Near the beginning of our family unit, we cover a large bulletin board with craft paper, then comb through magazines, catalogs, and discarded books to collect pictures of families of different configurations, cultures, and origins. We glue these pictures collage-style directly onto the board. Then we invite children to add drawings and photos of their own families to the display. On a nearby table or book rack, we place a collection of books about families (see Resources).
Young children love learning about animal families. Using books and nature magazines, we learn about what animal family groups are called (herd, litter, and so on) as well as animal baby names (such as cub and foal). We also explore animal family behaviors (how animals live together and how they care for their young) and compare these with human behaviors. We then invite children to create their own picture books about animal families.
The Family in Art
Our public library has several collections of fine-art prints and illustrations featuring families. Some good resources include A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures First Words selected by Lucy Micklethwait (Dorling Kindersley,1993) and I Spy: An Alphabet in Art (Greenwillow, 1992) devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait. We use the prints as we would wordless picture books, having children imagine what the subjects are saying, doing, thinking, or planning. Then we invite children to each bring in a small collection of family photos to refer to as they paint portraits of their own families.
Meet Your Ancestors
When children are ready to turn their attention to their family's history, we begin by reading books such as Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson (Dutton, 1985). Then we have the whole class collaborate to create Our Map of Family Places, starting with the reproducible Where We've Been in this theme unit. To make your own map, photocopy and distribute the reproducible. Ask kids take to have a family member help them fill out the page, which asks about family moves and memories. We invite our students to share their completed reproducible pages in class. Then we gather around a large wall map of the world and help children use push pins to mark their families' places of origin and patterns of movement. We connect the pins with lengths of yarn and use sticky notes to label and date these moves. We ask children to notice details about our class map, such as which family traveled the farthest, which one made the most moves, and so on. Then we make a list of important family places and post nearby. Over the course of the year, we help children track down more information about those places. We also like to invite family members in to the classroom to tell about their family's history and important places (we find that providing copies of the Where We've Been pages can help these speakers shape their presentations).
A Family Vacation
One of our favorite books for reading aloud is The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant (Bradbury Press, 1985). After the story, we ask children to talk about times they've traveled with family or had family visiting them. We invite children to bring in souvenirs, postcards, or photos from these times. Then we brainstorm a list of year-round, no-travel family "vacations" (such as vacant-lot nature walks, living room campouts, and so on). We've even tried a few of these with our classroom family!
Here are two ways our students graph family information:
A House Is a House...
Our students love the book A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman (Penguin,1978). For a fun interactive chart to go along with the activity, we draw an large house shape on butcher paper (approximately 4-by-7feet), then laminate it so it can be reused. Together with our students, we make a list of various household things (such as cups and shoes) that can serve as houses for other things. Then we offer children blank index cards so they can illustrate their ideas and tape them directly onto the house. (We find that it helps to encourage children to "color to the edges of the cards" so that their pictures will not appear too small.) We help each child label their cards by completing for each one the line "A is a house for a ..."
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."
We like to culminate our unit on family with fun-filled get-togethers like these.
AGES & STAGES: DEVELOPMENTAL TIPS
me, the youngest child of hard-working immigrant parents, the family
was warmth, safety, comfort total security. It
was from my teachers that I discovered who I was and who I could become."
underestimate the power of a simple newsletter for helping families
bond with the classroom. Try using 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)
is the developmental anchor for five and six year olds. Clear family
routines, schedules, and expectations create the safe harbor these young
children need so much."
Chip Wood, co-founder of the Northeast Foundation for Children and author of Yardsticks (NEFC, 1994)