I like Ruby's idea of a family river instead of a family tree! A GREAT children's book about an adoptee struggling with the family tree project at school is Lucy's Family Tree.
The family tree project, the bring-in-your-baby-pictures assignment, and the mini-autobiography project - all staples of the elementary school curriculum - are well-meaning attempts to get children to consider their family history and life story. But such projects can be emotionally loaded for adopted children and other children of nontraditional families.
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To avoid the complications of a family tree, some adoption advocates who conduct workshops in schools suggest that teachers employ the concept of an orchard instead. During her visit to Pembroke, Clark suggested that teachers try the motif of a house. The child can write names in each room of the house, and then draw paths leading from the house to other people or places special to him or her.
Many teachers are already sensitized to the ramifications of family-tree projects. Rita Cheresnowsky, Ruby's adoptive mother, got a call several years ago from Ruby's second-grade teacher, who was about to assign a family-tree project. "She wanted my input," Cheresnowsky said. "She said, 'This may be something a little difficult and challenging for your child.'
Cheresnowsky suggested that the class be given three choices: a river, a garden, or the traditional tree.
Ruby drew a river with tributaries feeding into it. The tributaries included Cheresnowsky as well as Ruby's birth mother, the foster mother who cared for her in Guatemala, her child-care provider, her kindergarten teacher, and Cheresnowsky's parents and brothers.
"A tree is just based on your family and your ancestors and stuff," Ruby said. "But the river shows the people who came into my life. It's a better way of showing your family. You can put more in that river than you could in a tree."
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