“When I handed [the family tree assignment] in to the substitute, he was just utterly confused about how I could not have a father and how could I not have filled it out properly. So I just didn’t fill it out and I sat at my desk the whole day, the whole day, because he said that until I finished my work I wasn’t allowed to do anything.”

In 2005, the *Queering the Family Tree Poster was conceived and designed to celebrate the diversity of families within which children live and thrive. This bilingual (English/French) resource was inspired by stories from children living in LGBTQ-led families about the “Family Tree” exercises they do in school, exercises that generally assume that all children live in conventional, nuclear, families. These exercises, with their fill-in-the-blank format, spaces for a “mom,” “dad,” “maternal grandparents,” and so on, often exclude children of LGBTQ-led families.

In 2011, as part of our celebration of Ontario’s third annual Family Day, the LGBTQ Parenting Network invited you to redesign and reinvent the traditional, family tree, grade school exercise.  We wanted to know:

What would you propose as an alternative to school family tree exercises? 

Motivalted by the incredible responses to this call, the LGBTQ Parenting Network decided the best way to distribute these amazing ideas was to create an online database, a space where parents, teachers and students can access these reinventions of the traditional family tree.

Below you'll find a brief description or discussion of the exercise, a bio of the person who sumbitted it, and a link to download a printable version of each exercise.

We would like to congratulate Jody Applebaum, Diane Hamilton, Kim McKellar, and Peter Yu, the winners of our original contest call out, for their inspiring entries.

We would also like to encourage you to keep the ideas coming!  Do you have a new, unique, approach or take on the traditional family tree exercise.  Tell us about it!

Exercises can be designed for kids from grades 0 to 6. The explanation/design for the exercise should fit on a single 8 ½ x 11” (letter sized paper) page. Exercises may also include non-written games and sing-a-longs.

Entries can be submitted by email to parentingresources@sherbourne.on.ca
Or by mail to: LGBTQ Parenting Network, Sherbourne Health Centre
333 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, ON, M5A 2S5

(Special thanks to artist Willow Dawson for providing the original outline for this "Community Tree," created and coloured on February 21st, 2011 at the LGBTQ Parenting Network's Family Day Party)

  * The Queering the Family Tree poster was created through a collaboration between the LGBTQ Parenting Network (Sherbourne Health Centre), Family Service Toronto, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Gay Fathers of Toronto, Chinese Family Services and TGStation.

A Musical Version of the Family Tree

'We wrote these songs together at Maurice Cody after reading and discussing the book All Families Are Special by Norma Simon. This book is a good one because it deals with single parents, divorced families, queer families, loss of a parent, adopted children, families living in two countries, large families and small families all in a positive way. Students in grades K-3 gave me the chords and lyrics. I came up with the rhythm on guitar and helped them with the melodies.

Here are two links for the songs we wrote together:

Songs written by the Kindergarten kids link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRzieGl8Jq0

Songs written by Grade 2/3 link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJTDsFt7IYc

This was our musical version of a family tree. ; )

This lesson can be done by music teachers, or if a teacher with no musical training would like to do this lesson they could write poems on how families are different after reading and discussing the suggested book 'All Families Are Special' by Norma Simon. (or another positive book about how families are different and special can be substituted).'

Jody Applebaum is a Music, Health and Gym teacher at Maurice Cody PS. Last year Ms. Applebaum taught grades 7 & 8 English, Media Literacy, Geography, History and Music at Fleming Public School. Students from Fleming worked together with Ms. Applebaum creating songs for Asian Heritage Month based on Asian Diaspora and The Partition of India. This year Ms. Applebaum will be taking students from Maurice Cody to the National Film Board to create animations for Asian Heritage Month to be posted on the TDSB website. Her major interests are in equity, celebrating diversity, and creating a safe space for all.

My Family Diagram

'The worksheet attached is one I made for a grade 2 class as an alternative to the family tree exercise. The kids wrote the names of people in their families on small sticky notes and then put them on the circles, arranged according to the generation of the person. Then we made larger family diagrams with photos of the family members collaged into the concentric circles.  This exercise was part of a larger unit called 'selfologies.' The kids did it after viewing 'That's a Family' (a great dvd), and the whole unit had them thinking, writing, and making a book about who they are, their identity in terms of race and family structure in particular.'

Diane Hamilton is a first year masters student at ICS. 'I’m a mature student (I did my bachelor’s degree 20 years ago!) and I’m SO excited to be back in school! My previous careers were as a frontline social worker in a downtown drop-in center for marginalized women, and more recently as a self-employed ceramic artist and pottery teacher. I taught pottery to kids at the Avenue Road Arts School for 5 years. I live downtown, in the west end, with my partner Tania and my son Oscar, who is 4. I’m very interested in alternative education, anti-oppression education, and figuring out ways to help kids love learning and love school. I’m thrilled and honoured to spend 6 weeks in the ICS grade 2 classroom.'

Roots of Love

The first step of this exercise involves asking children to think about and name  the people that help you grow.

From the beginning, this activity is child centred – they can draw or decorate the tree right from the start, define it, make it their own. They put their name or picture in the centre.

Then they choose to add people/roots that help them to grow – who love them, nurture them, teach them, etc. The people can be represented by names or photos or pictures that somehow relate.

The tree is non-hierarchal. It recognizes and illustrates the adage that it takes a village to raise a child (or grow a tree). It allows the child to define who is important to them without limiting those people in their biological family.

The great thing is that these trees continue to grow and change. The exercise could be done each year with new names being added, a reflection that lives change and families change. Hopefully it would reduce the shame that can come from a family tree looking broken or blank. If a child is being nurtured, their tree will have strong roots. 

Kim McKellar is an artist and writer and lives, loves and laughs with her partner of 18 years, Karen and their four year old daughter Rowan up on the Bruce Peninsula, just south of Tobermory.

Family Web

'One problem with traditional family tree exercises is that they make assumptions about the kinds, numbers, and relative locations of the various boxes that make up someone’s family. With simple software called SMART IDEAS, we can create an alternative activity that provides the flexibility to allow every child to create their own family “web” in whatever configuration reflects their reality.'

Trained as an architect, Peter Yu is currently an elementary teacher with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). He especially enjoys creating a classroom community where every single student is valued, making use of technology in the classroom, and encouraging students to be creative problem solvers. He is also a queer parent with a 3-year-old son who will start Kindergarten in the fall of 2011.

Family Day Powerpoint

Click below to download the Powerpoint presentation with information on all our contest winners as well as the history of the connection between LGBTQ families, LGBTQ parenting advocacy and research, and the Family Tree exercise.