Chopping Down the Traditional Family Tree

After contemplating how to get past my uneasiness of approaching family diversity in my future classroom, I decided to start with one small solution. I considered ways in which children can represent their idea of “family” without using the traditional family tree. With Hofmann’s definition of family in mind, I came up with the idea of “Community of Caring”. Visually, it can be created in many different ways, using actual images, drawings, symbols, etc. However, before the children create their own Communities of Care, it is important to discuss family diversity prior. Here are a few questions that can be asked to form discussions amongst the students in order for them to learn about and appreciate different family structures:

Who are the people in your life that mean the most?

How do these people care for you? How do you care for them?

What does “family” mean to you? Who can be a part of a family?

These questions are open for interpretation for each student, allowing for many different and diverse answers. They provide opportunity for discussion of different types of family structures and all those who can be a part of a family, including pets, friends, those who have died, and so on. After discussing these questions, and perhaps creating webs or charts to help answer them, allow the students to write down those who they consider to be their family. Throughout this process, it is important to reach out to each student to make sure they are comfortable with the task and if they need any support. After they have completed their list, allow them to make a visual representation of their family. Once all the students’ representations are finished, display them in the classroom so they can recognize and appreciate their classmates’ families and family structures.

Here is a copy of my own personal Community of Caring.

Community of Caring


Digging Deeper into Family Diversity

The concept of a family is universally known around the world. Although it’s meaning may vary among cultures and individuals, a family is a support system that is cherished and valued. However, there is no norm of what family structure is, and nor should there be. Families are beautiful because of their abundant diversity and uniqueness. From a young age, we are called to be proud of who we are and to celebrate the lives of those who are important to us. Placing ideals and restrictions on what a family should look like can result in feelings of exclusion and insecurity. Sudie Hofmann provides insight into how schools can foster family diversity and help students recognize and appreciate not only their own family structure, but those of others as well.

As I read “Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Student’s Family Situations” I was immediately able to make personal connections to the stories it shared. Family has always been the most important thing in my life, and this appreciation was only deepened after my sister died. Looking back, her passing and the topic of family in general was a very sensitive subject for me after the accident. For a long time I even struggled with knowing how to answer the question, “how many siblings do you have?” From the age of fourteen to sixteen, any conversation focused around family, with friends or in school, was overwhelming and stressful. However, I am now comfortable and extremely open to talking about my family and my sister whenever I am given the opportunity. I truly believe that the stress I experienced could have been significantly reduced had I been provided with more support and had my teachers and friends approached the subject with more sensitivity.

Hofmann describes family as a grouping of people who the child perceives to be their “family”. I found this very interesting as it leaves room for each individual child’s interpretation. This is important, as it places no restrictions on the children’s view on what family is to them. With family structures being vastly diverse, whether the child may be adopted, be of a same-sex marriage, have stepparents and stepsiblings, or, like me, have experienced the loss of a family member, it is important that all types are recognized and cherished. Hofmann explains that teachers need to alter traditional activities like family trees and Father’s Day gifts to accommodate all family structures. As a future teacher, it has never crossed my mind that issues could arise from small activities such as these. I strongly agree with Hofmann’s notion of teachers and parents supporting each other by being well informed of each child’s family situation and what activities and events will be structured around this topic. For those students who may feel anxiety or embarrassment in regards to their “unconventional” family structure, teachers need to be supportive by using inclusive language and altering activities to reduce these feelings and to promote acceptance.

Although Sudie Hofmann’s story has taught me to be more aware of subjects like family diversity that require a great deal of sensitivity, as well as many strategies to go about this, I am left pondering the grey areas of this topic. During the time in my life when discussing family was stressful, it is difficult to say whether I would have preferred someone to try to talk to me about it in a sensitive way, or to not address the situation at all. As a result of this, I am left wondering whether or not it is best to force this subject on to children who are uncomfortable with it. I agree that it is important to be proud of our family, but is it possible to approach this task without crossing any boundaries, or worsening a child’s anxiety? I strongly believe in acknowledging and appreciating family, especially in schools among our peers, however after reading, “Framing the Family Tree” I am left slightly apprehensive about addressing the situation in my future classroom.