Expanding the Definition of Family for Students

Expanding the Definition of Family for Students

16 May 2022 • Words by Allison Henry 2 mins

The word “family” can mean many different things to different people. Family can hold the most positive and loving connotation for some, while for others it can feel like an empty word that is associated with trauma. As educators, it is important to be mindful of how we view family and how our own beliefs and experiences influence how we talk about it with our students.

Teaching about families is a common theme in schools, especially in the early childhood grades where you may have a dramatic play center where students practice various family roles. Or, you may read books about families or ask students to bring in family photos and share about their families. Bringing a level of awareness and sensitivity to this will create a classroom culture that is inclusive and empathetic to all students and their associations with the word family.

Here are some tips for creating an inclusive classroom and expanding the definition of family for your students:

Audit materials that students have access to

Look for pictures that depict a variety of family structures and situations. Certain depictions of families are often overlooked in printable worksheets, curriculum resources, and coloring pages.

Do a 360-degree scan of your classroom

Stand in the center of the room and look for evidence that the room represents all students. Starting the year and each month or theme with a blank canvas allows the students to add their personal stories to the environment, as opposed to using premade materials that misrepresent your unique classroom ecosystem. 

Review your classroom library

Books that kids read independently or that you read to them hold so much weight. Storytelling helps kids make sense of reality and helps them connect new learning to their experiences. Include books that tell the story of many different types of families or connect different feelings to the concept of family. 

Check-in with your language

Using inclusive language like “we” and “our” reinforces that everyone belongs in the classroom. Be mindful of describing families as a mom, dad and kids. Ask open-ended questions or conversation starters that encourage students to talk about family without making any assumptions.

Introduce family by dispelling traditional definitions

Two questions to start with are: Did you know family doesn’t have to live in your household? Did you know family doesn’t have to share your genetics? Open a discussion about family and hear what the students have to say about it, avoiding making judgments or inserting your personal definition of family. 

Moshi offers tracks that reinforce inclusivity and gratitude for the people in our lives – Here’s a couple to start with:

Allison Henry