Three of my students are welcoming new baby siblings into their families this year — an experience to which I can personally relate. I remember when each of my four younger brothers was born, and the various feelings I had each time my family grew. Some of my teachers turned my family’s milestone into a major class event and I felt beyond special in my celebrated role of “Big Sister.” Using my own memories as a guide, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate this major transition in our students’ lives as a “class family.”
With four younger brothers, welcoming new siblings was a big part of my own childhood.
This year, each of the new big siblings chose to share the news with the class in different ways, but they’ve all seemed to enjoy the extra attention and support of their peers. Of course, every child is different, and I try to be sensitive to the range of feelings my students are having — nervousness, excitement, confusion, and more. During our class celebrations, I keep the focus on celebrating the “Big Sibling” in our class rather than just the new baby. I’ve invited the new big sibling to lead a Q&A with the class about his experiences; I share picture books about the experience; and I try to remember that life at home is topsy-turvy for these students, especially while mom is still at the hospital. Here are some of the ways we’ve celebrated the new siblings in my students’ lives.
Several weeks before the first new sibling was due to arrive, I shared the book The Name Jar with my class. I adore this book for teaching about multiculturalism, immigration, characters’ feelings, and tolerance, but it also comes in handy before the arrival of a new sibling. My students were eager to create our own Name Jars to provide name suggestions for their classmates’ families. Each Friday, the soon-to-be big siblings brought home a bag full of name suggestions to share with their families. This ongoing project is a favorite activity for all of my students who now feel like vested players in this major milestone.
After the new baby has arrived, some of my students have welcomed the chance to be the star of a class party. I bring out snacks, put on some music, and the students make cards to send home with the new big sibling. My students particularly love dance parties! To take pressure off the more self-conscious kids, I often play some “Just Dance” videos (available on YouTube) for all of the students to dance along to. The new big sibling gets to choose which songs we’ll play.
Okay, so the baby isn’t actually chatting yet, but the entire class is usually eager to see the new arrival. Some parents are willing to Skype or FaceTime with the class for a brief show-and-tell. (I always invite the big sibling to act as host for the videoconference.) Other times, the big sibling will want to share a photo of his new sibling. Either way, I make sure to allow time for this very important show and tell!
A proud big brother shows off his new infant brother during a virtual show and tell.
I shared this New York Times blog-article with my class as a shared reading: “Read to a Tiny Baby? Yes!" The blog post is based on a recent policy by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends that all parents begin reading aloud to children from birth. My students were fascinated to learn that “reading is a habit best formed early” — from infancy! It further reinforces the reading-is-essential message I sell daily, and it gives new big siblings an important job — to read to the new baby!
I recently discovered that Scholastic Reading Club sells board books for babies! I was happy to put some bonus points towards baby books to send home with the new big siblings. The rest of my students enjoyed helping me select the board books we’d give as a class gift.
My students had a blast filming and editing an easy movie to share with Elliot’s baby brother. Elliot filmed each of his classmates offering advice for the new baby about how to live his life. A team of techsperts (tech-savvy student experts) stitched together the footage and added transitions using iMovie on the iPad. In less than an hour, we had a finished movie to send as a personalized and utterly adorable gift for Elliot’s family.
Each time a new sibling joins our class family, I share a book on the topic as a launching point for a class discussion about feelings. Children who are nervous, jealous, or having trouble coping with this major transition are more likely to open up when talking about a character who shares her feelings. It also gives the rest of the class a chance to consider the wide range of feelings a big sibling may have and to build their empathy for their classmate.
Here’s a longer list of books about new siblings. While some of these books are written for younger elementary kids, my third graders all secretly enjoy the stories. Sometimes it helps if I frame the conversation, “So why might a little kid feel this way about his new baby sister?”
How have you helped students transition into their new roles as older siblings? Do you have any special class traditions? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!
One year ago: "Yummy Family Traditions! A Class Cookbook and Feast"
Two years ago: "Four Tips for Untangling (Power Cords and More!)"
Three years ago: "Five Projects to Juice Up Geography"