Monday, October 19, 2009

Family Trees

The Family Tree is one of the school projects that gets the most attention in the adoption community. The main issue that most people have with it is that the standard tree format (either an actual "tree" if it's geared to little kids, or a true genealogical tree for the older ones) does not have any space to include first family info.

There are of course other issues about this project when you are adopted. The first big question is "do I want to share with the class that I am adopted?" In my case, everyone in my class knew that I was adopted, but that didn't change the fact that I still struggled with this question. Every time something new came up like this, I had to reexamine how much I wanted to share. It wasn't like we talked about my being adopted everyday. And kids, especially little ones, have a tendency to forget facts that don't affect them directly.

It's very similar to coming out as a lesbian. Coming out isn't a one time event. It's been 20 years since I first came out, and I still have to do it pretty much once a week. Any time I meet someone new I have to decide how much about me I'm going to share.

So once a kid has decided that they are going to share the fact that they are adopted, the problem becomes the format. Most schools send home a print out sheet of the tree that needs to be filled in. That leaves the adoptee the option to pencil in their first family info or create their own format. There are lots of formats available to use, but for me, that doesn't solve the base problem. What kid wants to be the only one in class who's sheet looks different? That just opens up the whole can of worms with that little, but loaded question, "why"?

So during my meeting at the school tonight I am going to challenge the teachers to really look at projects before they assign them and find a way to make it all inclusive from the get go. The best idea is to leave the project open ended and let the kids decide how to present it. That way each child can decide who to include, how much to include and how they want to display it. This works not just for adoptees, but kids with single parents, kids with families who have divorced, remarried and added steps or half siblings to the mix and every other family type that happens in today's world. Kids can choose to include Auntie So and So, who isn't really an Aunt but one of the most important people in that child's life. No one gets singled out and the true spirit of the project is accomplished.

How have you handled family tree projects?
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