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Family History in the Classroom

Creating Flexible Family Tree Lessons Which are Fun and All Inclusive


When someone mentions "family tree" project, the first thing that comes to mind is generally the traditional family tree chart with mom and dad, branching off to grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. This type of family tree project can be a bit difficult in the classroom setting, however, as non-traditional families have become much more commonplace. Students in your class may find a narrowly-defined family history assignment to be challenging or even upsetting if they have been conceived through some type of assisted reproduction such as in-vitro fertilization or surrogacy, or come from a single parent household, adoptive family, or same-sex household.

While the definition of a family can present a challenge to educators trying to incorporate genealogy into the classroom, it should not be considered an obstacle, however. The purpose of incorporating genealogy into the school curriculum is to teach students a variety of skills in a more personal format, not to teach them how to be professional genealogists. With that in mind, there are a lot of ways to introduce children of all family backgrounds to genealogy and family history.

Flexibility is the key to a successful classroom family history project. Providing a choice of assignments or even allowing the child to suggest an alternative project will help to prevent upset students and parents. I receive emails fairly frequently from frustrated students who can't figure out how to complete an assignment because their grandparents don't want to talk about the family, or they can't find the required information for their project (note to teachers - surname origins are really not something that can be easily located on the Internet). Such situations could be easily avoided by providing flexible and/or alternative assignments.

One last solution to avoiding potentially upsetting or sensitive situations is to research, as a class, the family history of a famous individual. A genealogy lesson plan has been developed, for example, tracing the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the best-selling Little House on the Prairie series. Another classroom family tree lesson traces the genealogy of King Arthur. Local genealogical societies or libraries are often happy to help with locating original documents to support such family history assignments, and many resources are also available online.

When looking for new and unique lesson plans for your classroom this year, just remember that Family History + Flexibility = Fun!

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