I find that integrating different family structures in incidental ways is a sensitive approach to build knowledge and create an understanding about diversity.
Before embarking on this exploration, consider the demographic of your children and families in your community. Identify any gaps in knowledge that children may have regarding different family structures. Also be mindful of cultural beliefs around family structures and how you might sensitively support conversations with children around these beliefs while still developing their understanding about diversity.
There are many gentle ways to explore family diversity with children. You can do this by reading picture books that happen to have parents that are same-sex. Teachers don’t have to draw attention to this specifically. Approach it like a fact – some families have 2 mums, 2 dads, 1 mum or 1 dad. Some children are raised by a grandparent or live in a family house with parents and extended family such as grandparents and cousins. There are many different ways to be a family.
Assessment for learning
(gently growing understanding of diversity)
Explore what is means to be a family with the children. You may like to do this with a mind map (a large piece of paper with the word ‘family’ written in the middle).
What makes a family?
What does it feel like to be a family? Suggestions may include “love”, “safe”.
How do you think you can tell if people belong in the same family? This may be an opportunity to gently question misconceptions such as siblings look the same or look like their parents etc.
What are special things that families do together? Have children share the things that they love to do together in their family – bath times, stories, play, holidays, cooking etc
Through this sharing of ideas children are developing an understanding of families, irrespective of gender and family structure. You will also be able to assess current knowledge and understandings that children have about families and this may guide your plan to gently address any misconceptions in further learning.
Place on the floor some photos of families of various structures and appearance doing things together. Include some images of same sex parents, grandparents, one parent with a child, parents with a child that has a different skin colour etc. These images could be as simple as an adult brushing their teeth with a child.
Ask children, “What do you see in these photos?” and later
“Is this what a family looks like? What makes you think that?”
You may need to prompt children to consider if the people in the photos could be families. If children are uncertain, have a look at your previous mind maps of what makes a family, what does it feel like to be a family, and what special things do families do together?
Reflect on their previous comments and apply this to a new experience.
Use the same photographic images (as above) displayed around a dolls house. Provide a range of dolls (male and female adults and children as well as figures with different skin colours etc) for children to use in imaginary play to explore different family structures.
This is a child-led play space for children to explore and consolidate learning and understandings around family diversity. Displaying the same photographic images provides a visual prompt of the previous discussions and learning that took place (transferring knowledge into new contexts).
Using recycled objects such as small boxes, cover the boxes in paper so children are able to draw squares (windows) and create a house.
Children are then encouraged to draw faces of a family in windows. Write a description of the family.
Start with the child’s own family in order to build knowledge about your learning community. Allow children to have an opportunity to share about their family with their peers. Place a long piece of paper on the floor and ask a child to draw a street. Children then place their houses on the street. This might be an opportunity to discuss and develop their understanding of ‘neighbours’ and also use directional language to describe house position in relation to others (e.g. “Tom’s house in opposite Ahmad’s.)
Celebrate “Our Street/Our Community” by having a “street party”. Ask each child to share ideas about their favourite food that they eat with their family. Have children to draw a picture of their favourite food (or create a collage). Encourage children to share a story about who they enjoy eating their favourite food with at home.
An extension to this “street party” might be to invite families to a picnic and to bring a plate of the child’s favourite family food to share. Write a short description about the food so other families can learn about each other and celebrate diversity of food and family.
Watch the Teeny Tiny Stevies “Family (Love is Love)”. This animated song explores different homes that have different family structures.
What did you notice about the families that lived in the different homes in the song
How were those families different from ours? (refer to the ‘Our Street/Our Community’)
What was the same about those families and ours? (This might be an opportunity to explore the feelings that make a family)
Our Street (revisited)
Provide construction materials for children to create a new house with a new family in it. The family could be as diverse as they want. This is a way for children to explore ideas of family diversity outside of their own family structure. Provide once again photographic images of various family structures. Children can create family members using rolled up cardboard or other small recycled bottles/boxes.
This experience may require some teacher modelling in which you can create your own diverse family (include pets!) so children have a sense of the freedom to create whatever type of family they want.
Allow children to describe the family that they have created to you. Write down their description and provide opportunities for children to share their stories with the group of children.
These houses and families may form the basis of another imaginary play area. A place where children can use the family members and houses that they created to form a new street on a piece of paper. These houses and families could also be added the block area to extend children’s construction explorations.
Family Bead Tree
Have a table set up with a selection of coloured beads and some wool or pipe cleaners for children to use for threading.
Encourage children to chose a bead to represent each family member and to thread it onto their wool/pipe cleaner. Write the child’s description of their family onto a piece of paper and attach it to their beads.
Hang the beads from a branch that you can install in your room – either standing in a vase or a pot or hanging from the ceiling. You may like to encourage children to paint the branch or work together to wind wool around the branches to personalise the branch.
Provide opportunities for child to reflect on their family bead tree as it grows.
What feelings have we created on our Family Bead Tree?
How has our tree changed over time?
“Person in Charge of Families” Dramatisation
You may want to dig a little deeper into inclusion by challenging children’s thinking about inclusive practices. To do this you could do a drama with the children.
Pretend to be the “Person in Charge of Families”. Wear a special hat/outfit and have a notebook. Say to the group “I am in Charge of Families and from this day forth, I am to inform you that families should now no longer have any red beads. So let me see, I’m just going to go over here to look at your family tree and, oh dear, lots of red beads! I have to take this one off – Whoops, that’s your family Annabelle, and this one….(etc) All these families with red beads can go be a family on someone else’s tree. That’s better. Isn’t it?” Ask children for feedback. Doesn’t the tree look much better without those red bead families? If not, why not?
Prompt their thinking about why it wouldn’t be ok to exclude the families with a red bead (hurts feeling, removes colours, removes a bit of the love and happiness those families bring).
You might also like to interview a child from a red bead family to ask them how they are feeling having their family removed from the tree.
In character as the “Person in Charge” ask the children if we should put back the families with red beads? (ask children to take a vote) Why should we put them back? Ask children to help put back the red bead families. Remove your “Person in Charge” costume and conclude the drama by summarising the children’s ideas – all families are important, we may all look different but we all fill our tree with love and we all belong together etc.
'This is Me' - Body outlines
Have children lie on a large piece of paper and trace around their body. Encourage them to make any shape they want to express themselves – i.e. “Make a Zoe shape!”
Create a space for children to paint or draw inside the outline – they may create details such as eyes and clothes or you could ask them if they would like to draw or paint things about themselves. For example, their family, things that they love to do, things that they are proud of. Write down the child’s ideas and description of themselves on a post-it note and stick it on the back of their outline while it dries.
Provide opportunities for children to share their body outlines with the whole group. Allow this to be a moment to celebrate each other. You might like to offer something that you really appreciate about the child who is sharing eg “One thing I love about Zoe is her sense of humour – she always makes me laugh.”
Once all children have completed their outlines, display them in your space. If you don’t have available wall space in your room, consider where else in your centre you can display them – hallways or centre welcome space.
N.B. Consider if this painting or drawing space could be part of your outdoor program as the outlines may take up space.
'This is Us' - Body outlines extended
This extension is an opportunity for children to consider similarities and differences and how they are connected to each other.
Have an ‘incursion’ and allow children to view all the body outlines together.
Do you notice any things that are the same about us?
Do you notice any things that are different about us?
This is an opportunity to celebrate similarities and differences.
You may also reflect with children about how each of the bodies are separate from the other.
Can you think of anything that connects us to each other? (For example: We know each other’s name, we go to kinder together, we are friends and play together, we live near each other, we go to the same shops)
How can we show that we are all connected in this picture? (Examples: All walking on the same piece of ribbon?)
Through My Eyes
This experience is an opportunity for children to explore and value the perspectives of others.
This is a photographic exploration of children capturing pictures of places that are meaningful to them and sharing with others. You may like to commence this project with children taking photos of places (or people) that they love in the learning environment and writing about moments that they have felt proud or happy or calm in the place (or with a person). Providing an opportunity for children to reflect on emotions associated with places supports emotional literacy development.
Otherwise, you can initiate this project by working with families to support children to take a photo at home. This photo may be of a special place, or even a photo taken out of a bedroom window. You can ask the child to tell you about their photo and annotate their words.
This experience is an excellent way for you (and other children) to build knowledge about the child and their home environment. These insights may also support you to include home – learning environment links such as including home ideas into your curriculum and pedagogy.
Provide an opportunity for children to share their photos and thoughts with the group, celebrating individual experiences.
Display photographic images and ask children if they have discovered something new about a peer – something they didn’t know before. You may like to offer something new you have discovered about a child. You may also like to reflect on something you value and appreciate about that child and something you might want to find out about them.