Before you begin
That's a Family! is the first film to be
made for children that recognizes the wide range of family structures
that form the fabric of our communities today. For Bay Area
Mosaic, the curricula and activities will focus on families
in general and on families with Gay or Lesbian parents in particular.
The filmmakers have created curricula to be used with the different
family compositions featured in the film. For their printed teacher's
guide, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (415) 641-4616.
That's a Family! As Window and Mirror
Involving Parents/Guardians in This Unit of Study
As You Talk About Families With Your Class...
Questions Educators or Parents May
With more attention focused on creating safe schools, there
is a growing consensus that we have to do more to help kids become
more comfortable with diversity. Helping children to understand
family diversity is a great place to start.
Family is the first point of reference for children as they
begin to understand themselves and the world around them. It is
hoped that being able to name and understand differences among
families, will give children a foundation for understanding and
respecting other kinds of differences as well.
While children will be entertained by the film, they'll also
be absorbing powerful messages, about what things are universal
to all families and about how to treat children whose families
may be different than their own. That's a Family! will
also be very affirming for children growing up in a family structure
that looks "different" in any way from the traditional nuclear
family. In many communities, "different" families actually are
in the majority! In fact, only 28 percent of homes today consist
of a married husband and wife who are raising their biological
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That's a Family!
As Window and Mirror
A window is for looking through. A mirror reflects your image
back to you. That's a Family! can validate each student's
own family while expanding all students' notions of what makes
a family. This guide offers ways of using That's a Family!
as mirrors of and windows into children's families and the
diverse world around them. Thinking about how a video chapter,
an accompanying lesson, or a book provides windows and mirrors
for your students can be a valuable way for you to choose and
use the resources in this curriculum.
That's a Family! is a teaching resource that provides
an essential mirror for children of single parents, divorced parents,
Gay and Lesbian parents and caretaking guardians, children in
interracial families, children who have been adopted, and others
living in varied family configurations. Many children will see
themselves mirrored in more than one section in this video.
That's a Family! is also an important resource for children
from the more traditional nuclear family. It helps them see their
family structure as one of many possibilities in the world, not
the only possibility.
Watching and discussing That's a Family! will help students
sharpen their sense of who they are while broadening their understanding
of others. The questions "How is this family different from yours?"
"How is this family similar to yours?" and "How are these families
the same and different from each other?" offer children opportunities
to think about diversity and to move through mere tolerance to
genuine respect and appreciation of differences. The purpose here
is not just to learn about different families, but to learn from
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in This Unit of Study
We strongly recommend informing and involving parents/guardians
in this unit. Create a partnership with families so they can reinforce
the concepts of the video at home and contribute to the class's
understanding of family diversity. The following sample letter,
section about issues to keep in mind while facilitating this unit
and FAQ's (questions family members might have and possible responses)
are designed to support you as you design classroom lessons around
That's a Family!
Send a letter home before you begin this unit, asking family
members to help their child choose family photographs and artifacts
to bring to class. Invite significant adults to come to school
to be interviewed by the class, or just to visit during the unit.
The following letter should be tailored to your needs; dates,
grade levels and specific activities will differ.
Sample Letter Home
Our [third-]grade class is going to begin a unit of study on families.
We will show the video That's a Family! to introduce the
idea that there are many different ways that families live and
love. In this video, children talk about their families and the
kinds of things they do together (cooking, bowling, gardening).
There are sections on mixed families (in terms of ethnicity, religion,
language and race), adoption, divorce, Lesbian and Gay parents,
single parents, grandparents and guardians.
In class, we'll talk about the video, read related books and
participate in related activities, which include discussions about
our own families.
Children will use windows and mirrors as metaphors for ways
of thinking about how families are similar to or different from
their own. You may hear your child say, "This family was a mirror
for me because it had a mommy and daddy, like mine" or "This family
was a window for me because it had people with different-colored
To familiarize yourself with this unit of study, you are invited
to come to school on [Tuesday, January 14, at 7 p.m.] to watch
the video and look at the books and materials we will use for
Your child will have homework in this unit. Please join him
or her as you look over family photographs, choose family mementos
to bring to the class museum, talk about family recipes to share,
and tell stories of family members past and present. At home,
you can reinforce the idea that families are diverse. You can
also volunteer to be interviewed by the class.
You are welcome to visit our class at any time. I look forward
to working with you as we learn about and explore family diversity.
Don't hesitate to call me if you have suggestions or questions:
[school phone number, home phone number].
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As You Talk About Families
With Your Class...
That's a Family! is meant to be an introduction to family
diversity; it is not a comprehensive treatment of all possible
family scenarios. Classroom teachers can assess the situations
of their students and tailor discussions and activities to meet
individual and collective needs.
Talking about families may be challenging for some students.
While the video is, for the most part, positive and upbeat, some
students may have had or are having painful experiences in their
family, such as illness, sexual abuse, death, abandonment, alcohol
or drug abuse, absent parents, parents in prison, divorce, unemployment,
or domestic violence. It is important to create a safe classroom
environment so those students will feel comfortable sharing their
feelings, asking for help, or passing if they choose not to share
information about their family.
All families have difficulties at times. Families are often
able to support each other during hard times. Sometimes families
need outside help, such as counseling programs or specific support
groups. Children who have lost a parent, for example, might benefit
from meeting with other children in the same situation, who can
understand their experience and help them cope.
Students should decide for themselves who is in their families.
It is important to allow students to self-identify their families.
Extended families and caring adults in children's lives may include
stepparents, birth parents, relatives who live elsewhere, neighbors,
members of church groups, roommates, teachers and friends.
Students will feel empowered if they are given opportunities
to lend support to their classmates whose families are different
from theirs. They can practice interventions to use when they
hear judgments or put-downs from their peers - and can learn to
support each other when they're targeted by prejudice.
Your language makes a difference. Remember, children being raised
by caring foster parents, grandparents, two moms, two dads, one
mom, or one dad may be hurt by traditional instructions to "bring
this notice home to your mother and father for a signature." Use
inclusive language. Be sensitive to students' varied family situations.
Say, "When you go home to your family tonight ..." instead of
"When you go home to your parents tonight ..."
Assignments should be inclusive. Ask students to bring in "early"
pictures of themselves instead of "baby" pictures, which some
may not have. Don't assume students can start at the beginning
when you ask them to write their autobiographies. Emphasize family
"circles" that show all the caring adults in a child's life rather
than the traditional family tree. Think carefully about Mother's
and Father's Day activities - broaden them to acknowledge other
relatives or more than one parent or stepparent of the same gender.
Ongoing activities offer important support structures. Feedback
from educators is that frequent writing in journals, regular class
meetings, consistent ground rules, and a class question box for
students to submit anonymous questions and concerns are ways to
offer support and encourage communication as students encounter
and process diversity. One suggestion is to establish ground rules
for safe group process with children before you begin discussions.
Ask students what they need to feel safe and respected. Have your
own ideas ready to add to theirs. Students will likely come up
with many of these ideas:
One person speaks at a time.
Everyone has a chance to talk.
Everyone has the right to "pass" if they don't want to
Keep the information in the room.
Listen attentively without interruption.
Speak respectfully - no put-downs.
Discuss and record these ground rules and have everyone agree
to them. Post them in the classroom so you can refer back to them
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or Parents May Ask
I love this video and I want to use it in my classroom. But
I know a few families might raise concerns about showing it at
school. What do you suggest?
Check out your district policy on diversity and your school's
safety plans and see what their policies say about promoting awareness
and discussing diversity in the classroom. Familiarize yourself
with these policies so parents and colleagues can see that you
are not an individual following a personal or "special interest,"
but a professional carrying out district and school policy to
help all students do their best at school. Show the video to your
principal and discuss your school's philosophy and district's
policy. Invite parents to view and discuss the video before you
show it in class. Find allies in the community (such as other
teachers, parents, former students and community groups) and elicit
When students are not safe and respected at school, their self-esteem
is compromised and it is far more difficult to learn and achieve.
That's a Family! will help create a learning environment
that protects and validates all families. The video does not introduce
issues of family diversity. It simply reflects the diversity that
exists in our country and in almost all of our school communities.
It provides a forum for discussion of what already is.
Should I include all the sections of the video if there are
no such families represented in my classroom?
Yes! All sections of the video reflect dimensions of being a family.
To leave out any section deprives students of looking through
windows to different forms of family life.
To paraphrase Richard Strong: We don't study medieval history
because we have medieval people in the room; we study medieval
history because it has something to teach us. Learning about families
with adoptive, single, or Gay and Lesbian parents, for example,
is part of learning to respect and appreciate human diversity.
Including information about these families is not done only for
the children in these families, although it is essential for these
children to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. It is
done to benefit all children. Also, it is difficult to predict
the types of families that your students will form when they emerge
as adults. And family structure can change dramatically due to
separation, sudden death or other life situations.
Students learn from our silences as well as from our spoken
words. If children notice that differences between people are
avoided, the differences can become mysterious and frightening.
When something is not talked about in the classroom, it enters
the realm of secrecy and suspicion. Omission reinforces prejudice.
Also, students receive misinformation from the popular culture,
and classroom instruction is an opportunity to provide an important
You also may not be aware of many children's true family situations,
and children may not be sure whether the classroom is a safe place
to share such information. Adoption may be a secret; a female
caregiver may really be an aunt instead of a mom; racial or religious
differences within families may not be obvious but may still be
important. Many Gay or Lesbian parents may not feel comfortable
being "out" in our culture. Many students have a parent, aunt,
uncle, cousin, family friend, or sibling who is Gay or Lesbian,
and they may be hesitant to tell you or their classmates.
What if I have a parent who has an adopted child but doesn't
want the situation discussed? Or what if I have a child who's
been through a recent or painful divorce, or a child living in
a group home or with foster parents?
Emphasize the following ground rule for class discussion: Students
have the right to pass, and in class discussions, they don't have
to share anything they don't want to. Suggest that hearing students
in the class openly discuss adoption, divorce or guardianship
might help other students become more comfortable with their own
situation. Point out to the parent or guardian that this is an
opportunity to give important tools to the child and to provide
discussion opportunities at home. Silence reinforces the notion
that something is wrong with a child because he or she is adopted,
has divorced parents or lives in a group home. And finally, it
is unlikely that you would exclude other important classroom topics
because of one family's concerns.
Why talk about adoption with young children? Why bring attention
to different ways of bringing children into a family?
Adoption and foster families face a bias in society based on the
cultural belief that families formed by adoption are less truly
connected than birth families are; that birth families should
be preserved at all costs and under all circumstances except the
most severely harmful; that people who were adopted were first
rejected, maybe for a reason; that all children who were adopted
have "abandonment issues." Old adages such as "blood is thicker
than water" and referring to birth parents as "real" parents leave
no doubt that genetic connections are seen as stronger and more
legitimate than adoptive ones. No matter what role you have in
an adoption process, such judgments are painful. As a society,
we tend to understand the dangers of bias based on race, gender
or class. "Adoptism" is just as damaging, and children are never
too young to learn about it.
What if children are struggling with their family's situation
and don't feel as "happy" as many of those in the video?
This can be a topic for a class meeting, you may also want to
specifically acknowledge that sometimes, especially when family
structures change, children can feel sad or angry. And journals
are important for students to be able to express more personal
Are kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders too
young to learn about families with Gay or Lesbian parents?
Children who do not see their own families mirrored in the classroom
will begin to think that something is wrong with them, and children
who see only their families mirrored in the classroom will be
denied the opportunity to see themselves as part of a larger,
more complex society.
Using the metaphor of windows and mirrors, children with gay
or Lesbian parents - and children who know these children or know
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender adults - need to see these
families and community members mirrored in the curriculum. Other
students need to look into the window of families with Gay or
Lesbian parents in order to learn to understand and appreciate
Also, anti-Gay comments and insults start at a very early age;
many times children are saying "faggot" and "you're so Gay" as
early as kindergarten and first and second grade. They will learn
to consider these words as acceptable put-downs unless they learn
that they are hurtful and unacceptable and have an impact on the
lives of people in their school community.
I am uncomfortable talking about sex in the classroom. I
don't want to include families with Gay or Lesbian parents because
I don't know what to say.
Talking about families with Gay or Lesbian parents does not mean
talking about sex, any more than talking about heterosexual parents
means talking about sex. Children see many images of families
with a mom and a dad, and they read and hear many stories with
a mom and dad, and none of them include or require discussions
of sexuality. The same is true of families with Gay or Lesbian
parents. Trust and love and mutual family support is to be stressed,
not sexual activity.
What if a parent tells me that homosexuality is against the
family's religion, or what if it is against my religion?
It is the responsibility of educators to create safe, respectful
environments for all children. Whatever their other views, all
religions teach compassion for others, and That's a Family!
is a useful tool for reinforcing such teaching. Regardless
of religious affiliation, it is important to acknowledge and respect
Gay people and children with Gay family members as part of our
school communities. Otherwise, students whose families or whose
own emerging sexual identities are invisible or misunderstood
at school will not be safe from ridicule or verbal or physical
harassment. In fact, families and individuals have successfully
sued school districts and administrators who have failed to protect
their children from harassment related to issues of sexual orientation.
Stress that anti-Gay prejudice is related to other forms of
prejudice - like racism and sexism - and is unacceptable. Emphasize
that the safety and well-being of each of us is dependent upon
and related to the well-being of all of us. Anti-Gay prejudice
not only hurts families with Gay or Lesbian members, but it also
fuels the assumption that one group is superior to another.
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