In this ongoing series, we explore what culturally responsive teaching looks like at different grade levels and during holidays and celebrations. Last Month, we shared a culturally responsive approach to Earth Day. Today, educator Lindsay Barrett offers suggestions for addressing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the classroom.
Holidays can pose dilemmas for teachers who seek to honor the real experiences of their students while also maintaining an inclusive classroom environment. This time of year can leave some teachers wondering whether or how to address Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the classroom.
Culturally responsive teachers make it a priority to know their students, not just as learners in the classroom but in the context of their lives outside of school as well. Census data –most likely along with your own experiences with children and families in your school—indicates there is no longer a “typical US family.” In addition to heterosexual two-parent households, many students’ home situations include single parents, grandparent or other family member guardians, same-sex parents, adoptive or foster parents, stepparents or a fluctuating household makeup. Where does this leave traditions like “Mother’s Day Tea” or making tie-shaped cards for Father’s Day? On the one hand, they are sweet and often appreciated by parents. Many teachers work to adapt activities like these to be sensitive to a variety of situations. On the other hand, these practices may not be a true fit for all children and families today. Here are some approaches that reflect an updated perspective while continuing to embody the spirit of these holidays:
Focus on families.
The intent of both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is to celebrate the love and care of family members. A broader celebration of families is a natural option that encompasses more students’ actual experiences. This approach also aligns with the suggestion that culturally responsive teachers strive to cultivate a “positive perspective on parents and families.” Explore questions like:
- How do families take care of each other?
- How do families express love for each other?
- What do we admire about our family members?
Diverse books are an invaluable resource to shape these discussions. Consider sharing titles like:
Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand, which depicts a conversation between a son and his mother, an enslaved woman who’s walked twelve miles late at night for the chance to see him.
Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio by Rigoberto Gonzalez, which presents the different emotions of a young boy as he makes a Mother’s Day card at school for his mom and her partner, Leslie.
Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk, which is a unique story about a young Native American boy’s admiration of his father, a steelworker helping to construct the Empire State Building.
The Story I’ll Tell by Nancy Tupper Ling, which depicts an adoptive mother who tells her son a bedtime story about how he joined their family.
Reading and writing poetry is a particularly fitting way to explore concepts and emotions about families. Share collections like those below and invite students to use them to inspire their own family poems.
Love to Mama: A Tribute to Mothers by Pat Mora, which includes poems by Latinx poets celebrating memories of their mothers and grandmothers.
In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers by various poets, which is a poignant celebration of details large and small of relationships between fathers and children.
Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes, which chronicles a young girl’s responses to a collection of her mother’s writing about her own childhood that she finds in her grandmother’s attic.
Encourage honest, empathetic discussion and collaborative planning.
Culturally responsive classrooms are safe spaces for honest and robust conversation. Turn the discussion of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day over to students by asking them about the pros and cons of a “tea and ties” approach. Ask them to share ways they honor parents and caregivers in their own families and brainstorm updated ideas for school connections. These types of discussions align with the student-centered and culturally-mediated characteristics of culturally responsive instruction. Ideas students choose –for instance, writing thank you notes to family members for supporting them during the school year, or creating a special project to brighten a family member’s day— will be meaningful not just because they celebrate families, but because of the collective anti-bias thinking behind them.
With older students, you might examine portrayals of mothers and fathers in literature, looking at both universal themes and cultural variations in the definition of roles. Young children’s picture books can be used even with older students for this purpose. After reviewing a variety of titles, ask students to combine their observations and experiences to reflect: “If you were writing a children’s book, how would you portray adults in mother or father roles? Why? What portrayal of adult caregivers would have spoken to you most as a young child?”
Honor other caring roles.
Children are not just cared for and loved by mothers and fathers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, neighbors and others can all fulfill caregiver roles. As you explore and celebrate families, share books focused on these relationships and invite discussion about connections to students’ lives. These titles are particularly appropriate:
Mama Elizabeti by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, which describes how Elizabeti helps mind her toddler brother, celebrating the role of an older sibling caretaker.
Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, which tells of a special Sunday night tradition shared by Evie and her grandmother, her primary caregiver.
Janna and the Kings by Patricia Smith, which describes the loving relationship between Janna and her Granddaddy, as well as how his neighborhood friends help her grieve when he passes away.
It is possible to preserve the intent of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to honor those who love and care for children while also honoring students’ real life experiences. Cultivating an empathetic, anti-bias perspective in the process creates a win-win situation.
About the Author: Lindsay Barrett is a former elementary teacher and literacy nonprofit director. She currently works as a literacy consultant and stays busy raising three young boys. Find out more about her work at lindsay-barrett.com.
More in this series:
- What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
- Culturally Responsive Teaching in Kindergarten: Read Alouds to Build Relationships
- Culturally Responsive Teaching in Grade 1: Intentional Selection of Texts for Reading Discussion
- Culturally Responsive Teaching in Grade 2: Bridging Between the Familiar and Unfamiliar in Literature Discussions
- Culturally Responsive Teaching in Grade 3: Going Beyond the Single Story
- A Culturally Responsive Approach to Discussing Thanksgiving in the Classroom
- How Culturally Responsive is Your Classroom Library?
- Culturally Responsive Approaches to Goal Setting with Students
- Culturally Responsive Teaching: Valentine’s Day
- Culturally Responsive Teaching: Earth Day