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Lucy's Family Tree

By Karen Halvorsen Schreck Harpswell Press; $16.95 Some different ideas for classroom activities from a new children’s book.

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With so much diversity in our communities and schools nowadays, it’s time to rethink some of our traditional school activities. We should also review our assumptions about families, so that no child feels denigrated, denied, or overlooked in any way. Many schools still have classroom activities based on holidays, family trees, autobiographies, baby pictures and family memorabilia, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and family background research or genetics. Offering students the option of participating and providing an alternative project will let each child approach the task at his or her own comfort level. Some children may wish to keep information about themselves and their families private, and they should be allowed to do so in a way that doesn’t single them out. With a little creativity and foresight, we can make these activities a comfortable learning experience for everyone—and contribute to each child’s self-esteem at the same time. Here are a few alternatives to the traditional family tree project.

For Younger Children
My Home: Children draw and name the people they live with inside a simple house frame.

The Loving Tree: Children draw themselves on the tree trunk, and then put the faces and names of people they love (and tell why) inside hearts on the branches. A variation of this is The Caring Tree, where instead of filling in the hearts, children draw the heads of the people they care about and briefly tell how each person cares for them.

A Tree with Roots: Children put themselves on the trunk, then fill in the roots and branches with other family members. They could depict birth or foster parents as the roots, then use the branches for adoptive or stepparents, other parents, siblings, and other family members.

Family Houses: This approach uses family houses (see illustration, page 39), instead of family trees, to show links between family members and to show how family members, including parents, have moved from one home to start another with new members.

The Hedgerow: Children draw each current family member as one bush in a row of hedges. Roots can signify birthparents, grandparents, foster parents, countries of origin, etc.

For Older Children
The Genogram: This diagram approach uses symbols to represent each gender (a square for males and a circle for females), with straight lines connecting parents to each other and to children. An X over a symbol indicates a death, and a diagonal line crossing a connecting line indicates a divorce. Households are enclosed within a circle around the figures that are part of a child’s current family unit. This can be adapted to include important people in a child’s life.

The Wheel Pedigree: This system of divided concentric circles or half circles (see illustration, above) places the child at the center, with parents in the next circle, grandparents in the next, etc. In a full circle, one side can be used for a birthfamily and the other side for the adoptive or foster family. Names, along with other information (talents, interests, nationality, etc), can be added where known.

For More Information:
A nonprofit organization dedicated to the belief that classrooms can be places of hope, where students and teachers visualize the kind of society we could live in, and where students gain the academic and critical skills to make that vision a reality.  Offers an online journal and many teaching resources.

This extension of the Southern Poverty Law Center addresses themes of tolerance, respect, and community-building, publishes the free Teaching Tolerance magazine, and provides many resources for teachers.

This nonprofit is devoted to educating students, parents, teachers, politicians, religious leaders, and communiities about family diversity.  It offers exhibits, reading lists, and Web link recommendations.

© Copyright 2001 Adoptive Families Magazine.  Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 

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