Far more unites us…

    Published: 14 June 2019


    How did you celebrate the glorious diversity we see in our schools, on this year’s International Day of Families on May 15th? With this weekend marking three years since the untimely death of Jo Cox MP, someone who championed tolerance, diversity and equality, we share this blog about families and hope that it helps you and your children consider ways of celebrating the beauty in differences, and similarities, every day. With sensitive handling, no topic is off-topic.

    With all of these issues discussed in this blog, it is vital to know the contexts of the children in your class, and it’s a good idea to run activities, texts etc past a member of SLT first. They may also suggest that you talk to specific parents/carers too, about their or their child’s circumstances. Remember all your GDPR, Child Protection and social media guidelines – always better to check than not check!

    Five aspects of diversity to look into via different kinds of families:

    1. Stock up on some great families-themed books. Within the wonderful Highland Literacy website, @misstahcook has been quietly co-ordinating groups of schools in creating lesson plan ideas that span all age ranges. Themes include using the ‘The Great Big Book of Families’ as a starting point to discuss what makes a family a family, supporting children to understand the changing definitions of ‘family’ over time and to come to an agreement about common features of family life…no matter the make-up. There’s a nice link to the Stonewall poster ‘Different Families Same Love’ and a whole heap of recommended texts that feature a range of family types, e.g. with two mums or two dads. Children could be helped to write instructions for being a caring family-member, or a list poem of qualities using expanded noun phrases. Equality and diversity picture book lesson plans.
    2. Look into family life around the world – what might a typical ‘day in the life of’ be like for a family in (eg) Bangladesh, Poland, Nigeria, Irish Traveller/Roma families? Link to heritage of children in the class/school, but also remember to expand their horizons too. Invite family members in to share stories, photos and artefacts from their home country’s popular festivals where families come together – how do they celebrate? What do they celebrate and why? What similarities are there between this and how we might celebrate a festival in the UK? Children could write a response to information researched, such as a diary entry, or a thank you letter to the visitor. Also see HfL’s Detailed English Plan for a Year 6 summer unit based on the text ‘In Search of Safety: Children and the Refugee Crisis in Europe – A Teaching Resource by UNICEF UK’, available on the PA+ subscription website.
    3. Discuss how some families are grown or made, eg through fostering or adoption. Great books to share include ‘You are special – you were chosen’ by Joanna Ferlan and Mary Fox Prather, ‘I’ve Wished for You’ by Marianne Richmond, ‘A Mother for Choco’ by Keiko Kasza and ‘I’ve loved you since Forever’ by Hoda Kotb and Suzie Mason. Older children may be able to find parallels between these books and themes within the classic ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’…that love is what makes you real/makes a family. Older children may also connect to ‘The Railway Children’s’ sense of loss and the refugee’s feeling of newness in ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ or Shaun Tan’s ‘Arrival’. Some role play and a diary entry or letter could work well here.
    4. Don’t forget that some children live separately from some members of their family. Some children are being cared for by their grandparent(s) because maybe their own parent has mental health difficulties and can’t currently look after them. Some children are in foster care because of similar reasons, or perhaps because their parent is in hospital currently, and some children are living apart from a parent due to a relationship breakdown. Some children have a parent working away from home, such as in the Armed Forces (which you would know about as the school would be in receipt of the Service Pupil Premium (SPP)). Related books include: ‘My Daddy’s Going Away’ by Lt Col Christopher MacGregor and ‘My Dad/Mom is Going Away But He/She Will Be Back One Day’ by James R Thomas. See MoD website for more details on supporting children of service personnel. Perhaps, a sensitively-handled session creating a family tree would be one way of celebrating the extended nature of families, blended families and those living away. Perhaps children could write an explanatory leaflet for what it means to belong to the school family.
    5. Take it wider: look at other kinds of belonging… to a religion for example. What are the things about belonging to a family that are similar when you belong to a religion? Reponses to elicit may include: caring for others, consideration, putting others before yourself, thinking about how others might feel (empathy), doing things for other people and looking after the most vulnerable (e.g. elderly, very young or those with particular needs). Children could write a diary entry or create some ‘rules to live by’, especially with the class-family or school-family in mind, or they might like to write kennings. Sensitively handled, kennings written about each other - to guess that person - could be motivating and fun.

    You could draw all of this learning together by helping children to write their own ‘Family is…’ free verse poem, acrostic or shape poem. This ideally should be after a range of other activities from above, to feed the vocabulary and experiences in and enable them to express a new understanding.

    Remember throughout, that sensitive handling and a deep knowledge of your children’s contexts will be vital to the success of your celebration of diverse families; the ultimate aim is to help the children to understand that “We are far more united and have far more in common, than that which divides us” (the late Jo Cox, MP).

    Further ideas can be found in this blog here, plus a longer booklist:

    Anne Harding (@AnneHTraining): 'Using inclusive books in the early years and key stage 1 - why, what and how?', an article she wrote for @The_UKLA, on her website.


    In 1989 the United Nations held its first International Year of the Family, but from 1993 this became an annual occasion, ‘The International Day of Families’, on May 15th. The UN’s aim is to raise awareness of issues affecting families such as economic, social and demographic issues; celebrating the International Day of Families is a wonderful way of bringing a school’s approach to diversity and equality to life (http://www.un.org/en/events/familyday/background.shtml), but consider how to make these aspects part of everyday thinking and part of your school’s vision for English.

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