Exploring Family Compositions
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Level Kindergarten through 3
Language Arts, Social Studies
A. Listening and Speaking
1. Understand and follow one- and two-step directions.
2. Use description.
A. Listening and Speaking
1. Listen attentively.
2. Follow one-step written instructions.
C. Written and Oral Conventions
1. Write and speak in complete sentences.
1., 2. Select a focus in brief narratives and expositions.
A. Listening and Speaking
1. Use listening skills.
2. Distinguish fact from opinion.
1. Maintain focus.
2. Write brief narratives and letters with logical sequence.
A. Listening and Speaking
1. Compare ideas and points of view.
2. Make brief narrative and dramatic presentations.
1. Create a paragraph by developing a topic sentence supported
A. Social Science
4., 5. Understand cultural similarities and differences.
That's a Family! takes a tour, from a child's point of
view, through a wide range of family structures. The activities
in this lesson are designed to help children explore their own
families' composition and that of their classmates. If you have
not already done so, check out the "Before you Begin" section
on our Web site helpful.
Students should be able to
describe six different family structures.
define all vocabulary words and use them in original
tell how their own families are similar to and different
families in the video.
list specific ways they can support classmates whose families
are different from their own.
Videotape of That's a Family! (30 minutes)
The Sneetches by Dr. Suess
Everybody Bakes Bread by Norah Dorley
Everybody Cooks Rice by Nora Dorley
Go over the general ideas and vocabulary presented in the video.
You may wish to make a poster of the below points and display
it during the unit.
General Ideas Presented in the Video
There are many ways to be a family.
Families come in all sizes and configurations.
Families of all kinds have things in common.
All families are "normal" families, even though there
may be more of some kinds than others.
Conflict is part of being a family.
Families are not happy all the time.
Teasing can lead to hurt feelings and low self-esteem.
Individuals can interrupt teasing and be allies for
Families change, just like people change.
Different kinds of families can support each other
and be stronger than any one type of family on its own.
Key Vocabulary and Other Related Terms
Mixed family: When people of different racial backgrounds are
part of the same family it is a mixed-race family. People of different
ethnic, religious, or national backgrounds can also form families
that are "mixed" in terms of culture, skin color, language, and
religious practices. Emily's family is mixed because her father
is Asian (Chinese-American) and her mother is Caucasian/White
(German-American). Sofia's family, shown in the adoption section,
is a mixed family because she is Latina, her parents are White,
and her brother is African American. The word "mixed" is used
in That's a Family! because that is the expression the
children in the film use. Other terms include "blended," "double"
Note that trying to define race and ethnicity in simple terms
for children is challenging. There are many different ways to
define race and ethnicity. These terms are complex and fraught
with strong feelings, as terms, categories and labels have been
used as excuses to divide people. The intention here is to be
respectful, to teach children to be respectful and to be inclusive
rather than exclusive.
Adoption: A situation in which adults take children into
their families and legally become the parents of those children.
Birth mother: The biological mother, the woman who gave
birth to a child.
Birth father: The biological father, the man who created
a baby with the birth mother.
Divorce: When people legally separate and end a marriage.
Stepparent: When a divorced parent marries a new person
or has a committed relationship with a new partner, that person
can become a stepparent.
Blended family: Two families that come together to form
a new family.
Single-parent family: A family in which one parent raises
the child or children.
Gay: Describes a man who loves another man in a romantic
way and a woman who loves another woman in a romantic way.
Lesbian: Describes a woman who loves another woman in
a romantic way.
Guardian: A person entrusted by law with the care of
a child; a person other than the biological parent who protects
and takes care of a child.
Foster parent: A person entrusted with the temporary
care of a child who is not currently living with his or her permanent
family. Sometimes foster parents go on to become adoptive parents
FOCUS FOR VIEWING
Watch one segment at a time and review the vocabulary words
above to reinforce learning. Then have students write their (anonymous)
questions about the video and about families on cards and put
them in a question box. After you watch the tape you can lead
a discussion based on students' questions. This activity can help
you become familiar with students' questions and give you a chance
to clarify any misconceptions they might have. It helps to have
a question box available throughout the unit.
This activity is for students to process the information presented
in the film.
1. Use the following questions for discussion and suggestions
for journal writing (these can be done individually, in pairs
or in small groups).
Draw or list the different family structures
presented in this video.
Make a list of facts you learned from this video.
Which part of this video felt the most familiar
to you? Does anything in this video remind you of something
that has happened to you?
Which part of this video felt the most unfamiliar
What was your favorite part of this video? Why?
How did you feel about some of the teasing these
children experienced? Have you ever seen people in this school
tease other children because of their families? What did you
do? What else could you have done?
Do you think there is such a thing as a perfect
family? Why or why not?
How would you feel if someone said bad things
about your family? What would you do about it?
If you are being teased because of your family
situation, what can your classmates or adults in school do to
An ally is a person who comes to the aid of someone
else. Sometimes when someone is being teased or bullied they
are too upset to know what to do. It helps to have an ally interrupt
the teasing and say that it is not OK. Has anyone ever done
that for you? Have you ever done that for someone else?
Why do you think the filmmakers decided to make
What did you learn from this video? from the different
kids in it?
Find ways to help students talk about their families.
What are some of the things that families have or do together?
Many families go through change. What changes can happen in
families? What helps children cope with change? What skills
did the children in this video use to cope with change? How
do families solve problems? Did you ever feel upset about something
that happened in your family? What helped you feel better?
Make connections between the families in the video
and people your students know. Do you know anyone who is divorced?
a single parent? adopted? Gay or Lesbian, or has Gay people
in their family? biracial? bilingual?
If there are several children in the room who
fit in each category of family (adopted kids, Gay or Lesbian
parents, divorced parents, biracial family members and so on),
ask students to form subgroups and discuss within their groups
what they would like the class and the world to know about their
way of being a family. Ask them to discuss, write down and report
to the class the benefits and challenges of being in this type
of family (adopted, in a single-parent family and so on). Do
this activity only if there is more than one child for each
The purpose of the following activities is for students to explore
their own and others' family compositions. You may pick and choose
the activities that you think will best work for your class.
1. Have students write books about their families. On each page,
have them draw a picture of one family member, describe that person,
and tell about things they like to do with that person. If their
families are touched by any of the issues raised in That's
a Family! suggest that they write about them and other important
issues as well.
2. Ask students to bring in a family memento or important artifact.
Sit in a circle and talk about each object and its meaning in
the child's family. Create a class "museum," with each object
labeled by the student who brought it in. Use the museum as a
lead-in for descriptive writing and story-telling exercises.
3. Have students do any or all of the following:
interview someone they know who is part
of a family that is different from their own.
4. Invite significant adults from students' families to come to
school and be interviewed by the class. Let the class generate the
questions they want to ask. Write letters home as invitations and
write a story in which two people from different sections
of this video meet and talk. .
compare and contrast two characters from the video.
write a poem about That's a Family!
5. Think about That's a Family! and complete some of
the following phrases:
|| I can't really understand...
|| I began to think of...
|| I noticed...
|| If I had been...
|| I was reminded of...
|| I can't believe...
6. Write or dictate a letter to a friend describing That's
Before and after showing the video, you may choose to read
one or more of the books listed in the bibliography in the Resources
section of this Web site. Select books on each section from the
bibliography; have them available to students at reading time.
Choose several to read aloud to the class and use them for possible
writing assignments. Remember that picture books can be useful
tools even for children in the upper grades. The following activities
tie in books on related topics.
1. Read The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss to the class. Help
them talk about how we form groups in which people belong or don't
belong. Ask: "Have you ever been left out of a group? How do you
feel when you are left out? How do you feel when you are part
of a group?"
2. Read Everybody Bakes Bread and Everybody Cooks
Rice to the class (see bibliography). For homework, have students
ask for a family soup recipe and a story to accompany it. As a
class, create a book, called Everybody Makes Soup, consisting
of recipes with accompanying stories. Every Friday, invite one
student's family to visit the class and make soup for lunch. If
you have a child in your class whose family is different from
the majority, this exercise might cause some anxiety. With sensitive
support, this can still be a valuable activity. For example, a
child in a single-parent family in a class of two-parent families
might go third or fourth instead of last so they won't have time
to make comparisons and feel anxious.
3. Read students the Arnold Adoff poem "In Both Families" (from
Families: Poems Celebrating the African American Experience;
see bibliography in the Resources section).
Some related art projects:
1. Collect all the statements about windows and mirrors (explained
in the Before You Begin section on this Web site) and make a windows
and mirrors bulletin board. Point out again that the same item
can be a window for some people and a mirror for others.
2. Have students draw a picture or design a poster that explains
the many ways to be a family.
3. Have students make torn-paper self-portraits (provide many
choices for skin colors). Students use small bits of different
colored paper to paste a collage, using paper instead of paint
or crayons. These can be displayed in class and used later as
covers for student autobiographies.
4. Have students make paper bag, papier-machÚ or finger puppets
of their family members. Use the puppets to create a dialogue
5. Ask each student to draw a picture of his or her family and
label it with names. (Students should decide whom to include.)
Discuss whom they consider to be part of their families: pets?
people they live with? people who live far away? Display pictures.
6. Have students bring in family photos and make a collage.
Ask students, "What way(s) of being a family are not yet represented
in this collage? How can we include them?"
7. Have students look through magazines and find pictures of
families. Make a collage called "That's a Family!" As a class,
make lists of what the families shown are doing together.
8. Create "family mobiles" using hangers, yarn, 5- by 7-inch
cards, crayons and markers. Hang mobiles around room.
9. As a class, paint a mural that represents That's a Family!
Home Activities Children Can Do With
1. Interview the adult(s) in your family about the different
family structures they and their parents grew up in. Include the
siblings of your caregivers and your grandparents.
2. Emily's family celebrates Christmas like her mother's family
and Chinese New Year like her father's family. Do you have family
traditions that come from different sides of your family? What
are they? With a family member, tell and write about the holidays
and traditions your family celebrates. Bring your work to school
to share with the class.
3. Discuss with your family ways you can be supportive of people
who are different from you.
4. Work with your family to complete the family tree assignment
given by your teacher.
5. Read one or more of the books from the related list or the
further resources list together with a family member. 6. For each
segment of the video, fill out the following chart (find an adult
in your family to help you fill in this chart)
Ways our family is the same: Ways our family
7. With an adult in your family, find a memento, photograph,
or artifact that has significance for your family. Talk about
its history and why it is important to you. Write down or dictate
to the adult the story of this artifact. Bring the story and,
if possible, the artifact to school to share with your classmates.
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