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Welcoming Family Diversity in the Classroom

Students' family structures vary now perhaps more than ever before. It's therefore important for teachers to be inclusive of all types of families when it comes to communication, assignments and many other aspects of classroom life. 

Diverse family structures can include:

  • Single parent (divorced or never-married)
  • Foster parent(s) (or state as legal guardian)
  • Adoptive parent(s)
  • Blended (biological parent and another parent figure to whom s/he may or may not be married)
  • Unmarried biological parents
  • Polyamorous parents (multiple romantic partners in household)
  • LGBT parent(s)
  • Non-parent relative(s) as guardian(s) (grandparent, aunt, etc.)

No matter the type of family, students do best when educators remain sensitive to--and welcoming of--these differences. Acceptance by both adults and classmates at school contributes to students' social-emotional well-being, which we know positively impacts their academic achievement.

With that in mind, here are five ways to celebrate family diversity:

  1. Offer books that address a range of family experiences.

    Maintaining a diverse classroom library and encouraging students to read these books is an excellent way to raise awareness about different types of families. Try to find books that appeal to students' family situations, whether they have two moms, divorced parents or multigenerational guardians. This way, kids will expand their definitions of "family."

    Here are a few book suggestions for preschool and the elementary grades:

    Families Are Different by Nina Pellegrini
    The Family Book by Todd Parr
    Sometimes It's Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies by Gayle Byrne
    Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman
    Molly and Her Dad by Jan Ormerod
    And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
    Abuela (English edition with Spanish phrases) by Arthur Dorros
    Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff
    Every Year On Your Birthday by Rose A. Lewis
    Fred Stays With Me! by Nancy Coffelt
  2. Use inclusive communication and language.

    Avoid phrases such as "Give this to Mom and Dad" when handing out notices or other announcements. Remain broad so you do not point out a specific student's situation. Better to say something like "Make sure this goes home to parents, guardians and families." Work family diversity into everyday discussion and activities without belaboring it. For example, if you're writing sentences for grammar exercises, include the phrases "her dads," "his guardian," etc.
  3. Keep activities general.

    With holidays such as Mother's Day and Father's Day, crafts and lessons may be difficult for students who feel left out on these days. As an alternative, have students do more general  activities, such as drawing "who's important in your life" and sharing with the class something that's unique about their home situation. When doing icebreakers or "all about me" activities, avoid asking kids to draw "your house" (as some may be in a shelter or foster situation). Instead, have them draw "where they sleep" or simply "a possession that's important to you."
  4. Present visual diversity.

    Hang classroom posters or display other materials celebrating differences in family structure. Whether it is a drug-prevention or other health-promotion poster, or a poster of a family reading a book, educators can communicate acceptance without saying a word. In PowerPoint presentations, make sure to include a diverse selection of photos.
  5. Set expectations of respect.

    Establish a culture of respect in the classroom and let students know that they are not allowed to disrespect another individual's lifestyle, no matter how different it is from theirs. If any situations arise in terms of student behavior, address them immediately, making sure to re-educate rather than simply punishing. Strive to create a classroom environment where every child feels valued and understood.

Article by Kassondra Granata, EducationWorld Contributor
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