Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Family Tree Project

To start, school is going okay thus far. The kid is finishing up week 3 and things are okay, not great, but a hell of a lot better than last year. We're working on it and I'll take it for now.

I attended the parents' night last week and we got an assignment I've been dreading. The kid is to make a family tree. There are a couple of reasons why I haven't been looking forward to this.

The first - and really biggest - is I just don't understand the reason for it. Be assured I've emailed the teacher and am awaiting her response to answer this question. I'm hoping it will help give us some direction to take. She's a veteran teacher, so I'm certain the kid isn't the first kid she's had with adoption, or another "non-traditional" family dynamics/compositions. Because the 2nd reason I'm not loving this is that I'm uncertain how to proceed.

First, I just don't get the reasons for this whole thing. I mean, why??? What do children learn from this project. A friend suggested that it is about helping children learn about their own placement in a family, which can be a building block to understanding the structure of society as a whole. That makes sense. However, I still don't think this is an appropriate assignment; this could be taught in a different way.

Families look so different and many won't fit into the traditional "family tree model". There are an infinite ways for families to be composed in addition to the biological mom/dad/2.5 kids approach. There are blended families with step-parents/kids. There are single parent families where the other parent may or may not be known to the child. There are grandparents or other relatives raising children. There are children in foster care or residential facilities. There are children who may or may not know who their biological fathers or mothers are - due to adoption, being conceived as a result of rape, being conceived with donor eggs and/or sperm, or a myriad of other reasons.

Now, because the boys' adoptions are open, and we've had them since birth, we have some of the biological family history. However, it's quite limited, particularly for the kid. So this further complicates matters (if he does want to include his birth family, that is - which I will very much encourage him to do, but, in the end, it's up to him).

I've seen suggestions of using a roots approach (i.e. putting the birth family as the roots and the adoptive family as the branches). But I really - I mean, really - dislike this idea. To me, when I think of roots, I think of something that is hidden under the ground and not seen.While they're vitally important to the tree, I'm not okay with this being where the kid's birth families are put.

Additionally, to me, roots seem like referencing the past. And the boys' birth families are not just a part of their past. They are a part of their present, and hopefully a part of their future.

I do like the idea of using either hearts, leaves, or hands (as leaves) on a tree (no roots of course). Then the kid can write the names of family members and other important people he wants to include. I also like the idea of a big puzzle, with the names of different important people/family members on each piece.

I think what I need is to have some ideas, a few suggestions for the kid on a starting point. Where he decides to go with this is obviously up to him. But I need to get comfortable with it before I can even present it to him. Because the last thing I want is for HIM to be uncomfortable with it.

You have any experience or ideas about this project? I'd love, LOVE to hear (well, you know, read) them!

Today's Lesson: First grade is when shit gets hard, y'all. Man. Or maybe it's that it continues to be hard, just in a different way. Okay, re-framed lesson of the day - parenting is hard.


Elizabeth said...

Ahh... the family tree project. I assigned this one year since I'm a Spanish teacher for the obvious purpose of practicing family member vocabulary words. I'll never do it again! It was too complicated and as a naive 24 year old I didn't think through all the details. It sounds a bit like this teacher may need to change her lesson plans to fit the current century. :/

Emms said...

Oh my, I never thought of this. What did the teacher say? I better start thinking about this now for when bug gets to this age...know donor sperm will be an interesting one.... Oh boy. Good luck let us know what he decides!

Anonymous said...

Good for you for standing up for your son on this! I always hated this project. I did not know either of my parents. I didn't know my extended family. I was raised in foster care. I did not have any siblings that I knew of. So my family tree was always blank, with just me in the middle. And they were all pasted up in the hallway for everyone to see. And because of it, I got teased. A lot. And I learned to be ashamed of it.

I just feel like, with so MANY different families, the decision to share your family with your peers should be left up to the child at their discretion. You shouldn't have to hide your family, but you shouldn't be forced to share it either.

As a teacher now myself, I have never and will never do the family tree project. Some families are just too dynamic for a simple tree and I would hate to find a project I assigned my kids - and the reaction of their peers - taught them to feel ashamed of their families.

Good for you for addressing this, because it's probably not the last time he will have to do this project.

M said...

As a second grade teacher, I don't think this assignment is appropriate for first grade! Like you said, what is the purpose? I really don't have any advice, I'm sorry. I hope the teacher gives you some more guidance.

Elizabeth said...

I'll be curious to hear what the teacher says. I'm sorry the year is just going ok. I hope it gets better from here on out. I love your idea of a puzzle- very creative!

Logical Libby said...

Personally, I think it's lazy teaching. Yeah, yeah, you can say it's about "placement in society" but really it's just a "getting to know you" idea that is tried and true -- and horribly outdated.

If they really want to know about a child's family, I like the circle idea -- kind of like a bubble diagram.

Kelly said...

My oldest had to do a family tree in middle school at some point. My husband adopted her when she was going into 6th grade. We are a transracial family. When she wrote in her report about our last name's origin, and how it was a slave name (my husband is black) it was weird, but the truth.

In pre-school Mea had to bring a baby photo of herself for a project. She didn't come home to us until she was 13 months, so we don't have many "baby" pictures. Her foster mom sent us some, so we did have one for her to take, but she was very obviously upset by not having lots to choose from like her friends.

This project is out dated, and they should find some other way to get to know the children and their families.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.