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© Gail Underwood Parker

Monday, November 1, 2010

School Bell: Family Trees

Sooner or later almost every child has a school assignment connected to their personal family tree.  Maybe it is connected to an immigration unit, or teaching family relationships, or generations, any number of topics.  Sometimes it isn't even a family tree... maybe it is just the request to bring in a picture of themselves as a baby or toddler.  I wish I could wave a magic wand and redo all of those assignments to make them more inclusive.  Those assignments however well intentioned exclude so very many children.  It creates awkwardness, even pain, for adopted children, foster children, children who have lost homes and memorabilia in fires or tornados or floods.

Talk to your children's teachers in advance, especially if this is a problem point for any of your children.  Solutions and alternatives are always better with forewarning... both for you and for the teacher, not to mention the child.  If it is a tree, maybe the birth family can be labeled as roots and the current family as the branches. Maybe the tree can just be a collection of names or places with no relationships specified. Maybe each child can choose whose family tree to do and can do any grownup they know.

Maybe the teacher can use the "it takes a village" approach and challenge each child to make a village family tree finding a person [or branch] for each generation withOUT using family members, teaching about communities and friends as extended families. If you or the teacher needs other ideas, google alternative family tree assignments and you will find many options.

Whether your family is negatively impacted by the old style assignments and photo projects isn't the point.  The point is that we should always be aware that these assignments and projects can cause tremendous unnecessary emotional pain for many children and it can be avoided.  Not only that, but these activities can be done in inclusive ways that benefit all children.  Any favorite tricks that you have seen?  Share them!  I'd love to hear about them.

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