Family is a topic that fits anytime, anyplace into the school curriculum. Here, we offer the best family activities for the classroom.
To help show that families come in all shapes and sizes, turn students loose on a button collection and ask them to find buttons that match in some way. Have students put the buttons together into families and glue them onto die-cut construction-paper houses. Then ask them to describe what makes their buttons a family (for example, the same color, number of holes, shape, or size).
Families on Display
Near the beginning of your family unit, cover a large bulletin board with craft paper, then comb through magazines, catalogs, and discarded books to collect pictures of families of different configurations, cultures, and origins. Glue the pictures collage-style directly onto the board. Then invite children to add drawings and photos of their own families to the display. On a nearby table or book rack, place a collection of your favorite books about families.
Young children love learning about animal families. Using books and nature magazines, teach what animal family groups are called (such as herd and litter) as well as animal baby names (such as cub and foal). Explore animal family behaviors (how animals live together and how they care for their young) and compare these with human behaviors. Then invite children to create their own picture books about animal families.
The Family in Art
Public libraries typically have several collections of fine-art prints and illustrations featuring families. Some good resources include A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures First Words (Dorling Kindersley, 1993) and I Spy: An Alphabet in Art (Greenwillow, 1992), both compiled by Lucy Micklethwait. Use the prints as you would wordless picture books, having children imagine what the subjects are saying, doing, thinking, or planning. Then invite children to each bring in their own small collections of family photos to refer to as they paint portraits of their own families.
When children are ready to turn their attention to family history, begin reading books such as Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson (Dutton, 1985). Then have the whole class collaborate to create Our Map of Family Places, starting with the Where We've Been Reproducible (PDF), below. To make your own map, photocopy and distribute the reproducible. Ask kids to have a family member help them fill out the page, which asks about family moves and memories. Invite your students to share their completed reproducible pages in class. Next, gather around a large wall map of the world and help children use push pins to mark their families' places of origin and patterns of movement. Connect the pins with lengths of yarn and use sticky notes to label and date these moves. Ask children to notice details about your class map, such as which family traveled the farthest, which one made the most moves, and so on. Then make a list of important family places and post nearby. Over the course of the year, help children track down more information about those places. You might also like to invite family members in to the classroom to tell about their family's history and important places. (Providing additional copies of the reproducible can really help these speakers shape their presentations.)
A Family Vacation
A favorite books for reading aloud is The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant. After sharing the story, ask children to talk about times they've traveled with family or had family visiting them. Invite children to bring in souvenirs, postcards, or photos from these times. Then brainstorm a list of year-round, no-travel family "vacations" (such as vacant-lot nature walks, living room campouts, and so on). You can even try a few of these with your "classroom family!"
Here are two great ways students can graph family information. First, turn a piece of graph paper horizontally. Print the letters of the alphabet along the bottom (one letter per square). Make one copy of this page for each child. At the top of the page, help each child print the names of his or her family members. Then, have children create name bar graphs by coloring in one square above each letter that appears in each name until all the names have been graphed. Finally, help children to count and record the total number of letters represented in their family members' names. Next, read How Many Feet in the Bed? by Diane Johnston Hamm. Then use the My Family Counts Reproducible (PDF), below, to create family counting wheels. Mount copies of the wheel onto construction paper. Have children take copies of the wheel home so they may count and total the number of family member's body parts as directed on each wedge of the wheel. Back in class, help children calculate their own grand totals and those of the class. (This activity is great for teaching kids how to skip-count by twos, fives, and tens.)
A House Is a House...
Students will love the book A House Is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman. For a fun interactive chart to go along with the book, draw a large house shape on butcher paper (approximately 4' x 7'), then laminate it so it can be reused. Together with students, make a list of various household things (such as cups and shoes) that can serve as houses for other things. Then offer children blank index cards so they can illustrate their ideas and tape them directly onto the house. (Encourage children to "color to the edges of the cards" so that their pictures will not appear too small.) Finally, help each child label his or her cards by completing for each card the phrase "A is a house for a ..."
Writing About Grandpa
Grandpa Loved, the award-winning book by Josephine Nobisso, celebrates the relationship between a child and his grandfather. Read this book aloud to students before distributing the Meet a Mentor Reproducible, below. Then invite students to share feelings about their own grandparents. Despite the book's poignant, believable story line, Josephine herself grew up not knowing her own grandfathers. After explaining this to students, ask them to share why they think Josephine chose a grandfather as the book's central character. Then read Josephine's own words about her experience to your students:
"One grandfather died just before I was born, the other passed away when I was just an infant," she says. "(My) book takes us to four different landscapes I love: the sea, the forest, the city, and the family. There's always a sense of nostalgia when I'm in one and not the other. I thought, 'Who else to bring to the places I miss the most than someone I most miss?' My grandfathers were alive for me even though I never had them in the flesh. My family still accorded them the love and respect as if they had been alive. And just as the grandfather in the book will forever live on in the boy's heart, my grandfathers will be with me always."
Culminate your unit on families with fun-filled get-togethers like these.
Sibling Celebration: Have children prepare invitations asking their siblings to join them in class or at recess. Siblings can team up to present puppet shows, do readings of favorite poems, or share memories about each other.
Film Festival: Have children bring family videos to view together in school. Ask each child to act as a narrator for his or her family's film. Use the opportunity to explore family roles and relationship words. Point out how we all often assume more than one role in a family (for example, a boy can be a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, and a grandson at the same time).
Family Food Fair: Invite family members to share favorite recipes at a taste-testing feast. As your students and guests sample the fare, read the book Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley. Then ask family members to take turns describing the origins and meanings of their family recipes and the occasions on which the dish is served in their homes. Afterwards, ask the family members to write out their recipes and have your students illustrate them. Make copies of these recipes and bind them together to create your own classroom Family Cookbook. Give each student one copy of the cookbook to take home.
Ruth Bilbe and Naomi Kornman are veteran Kindergarten teachers from New Orleans, LA. This article, originally published in the November/December 1995 issue of Instructor, has been exclusively adapted and updated for Instructor Online, © 2003.