How to help children learn about their family heritage
Teaching about family and cultural diversity can be fun, but also tricky. It is a time when some people may find it difficult to share or investigate their roots. I learned this as a fairly new teacher. I hope to be able to help change this.
I had a young girl who was afraid to let people know about her background because she had been teased at a former school. She chose to use her mom's last name instead of her dad's last name because she didn't want people to know her nationality. This really disturbed me. How could people make such a young person feel like this?
It was so bad, that when her half sister came to visit, she didn't want to share about her visit because they would hear her name and tease her. (at our school this would not have been the case, but she didn't realize that)
I decided that I needed to do something about this. I wanted my students to be able to celebrate their heritage and be proud of it, not ashamed. I decided to create a unit where they could research the places where their families came from and share different traditions, cultural activities, food, and even special articles or memorabilia.
At the time that this unit was forming in my mind, my son was teaching in South Korea, and I had an exchange student from the place where he was teaching. This allowed me to work with the young student at the same time. (He had very limited English, so I was able to support him with his research and presentation.)
I called the unit Who Are We? Discovering Our Roots. This unit was far more successful than I ever imagined. Every child created an incredible display of who they were and shared enthusiastically with others when we did a school wide presentation and a presentation to parents. We had music, food, special items that were from their culture and fabulous backdrop displays,
The best part was, that everyone was excited to celebrate who they were, even my little girl who was so afraid earlier. As a matter of fact, she shared both her father's and her mother's roots.
I decided to recreate this unit a few times throughout my teaching career, and each time I was thrilled to see how enthusiastically the kids embraced who they were and shared their traditions with others.
A few years ago, I learned about people sending cutouts of themselves around the world on adventures. I discovered that this was something that came from an idea based on the Flat Stanley books written by Jeff Brown. I thought this would be fun to do, but I decided to put more of an educational twist on it. I decided that we would send out flat families around the world to different relatives that lived far away from us. That is how the Flat Family Project was born.
I did this project a couple of times before I retired and it was so much fun for the kids. Each child sent away a journal and a hand drawn picture of their family along with a letter and a return envelope. Throughout the following weeks packages arrived at the school filled with journal entries and photographs of the flat family adventures. Many also included special items from their family members that would be cherished keepsakes for years to come.
I did have a couple of students that were unable to connect with a family member elsewhere, but they were still able to participate. I contacted some of my cousins and they said they would get their children to help out. It was so good to know that everyone would be able to take an adventure and receive a parcel back. (I did check with the students' families to see if they were okay with this.)
One of the families even sent back a book for our class with an inscription and drawing of their flat family.
If you would like to check out either of these projects, you can find them here. I know that I would be doing them again if I was still in the classroom.
For free resources, tips, and ideas, sign up for my newsletter.
About Me Charlene Sequeira
I am a wife, mother of 4, grandmother of 9, and a retired primary and music teacher. I love working with kids and continue to volunteer at school and teach ukulele.