Bay Area Mosaic
Index of Mosaic FilmsThat's a Family

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 or (415) 641-4616.

• Overview
• 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 Ask


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 children.

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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 different families.

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Involving Parents/Guardians 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

Dear ___________________________,

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 skin."

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 this unit.

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].

[Teacher signature]
[Teacher name]

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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 talk.
• 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 if necessary.

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Questions Educators 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 their support.

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 reality check.

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 reactions.

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 them.

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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