Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Families: A Jr. High School Youth Program that Explores the Diversity, Commonality, and Meaning of Families

Alternate Activity 1: Uprooting Our Family Tree

Part of Families

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Materials for drawing, including paper, pencils, markers, and the like
  • Newsprint and markers
  • CD player and background music (optional)

Description of Activity

Introduce the activity by stating its title. Tell participants that this activity focuses on the functions served by a family. Invite participants to brainstorm what they get from and give to families. Record ideas on newsprint. Next, invite participants to include people they love who are not necessarily designated "family members," but whom they would consider "part of the family," as they think about family functions. Have participants think about who helps them with their basic needs. This might reveal that there are many organizations, such as schools, churches, and the like, that are also integral to their day-to-day functioning and contribute to their care and keeping. If the group struggles with the idea of including friends and others in the category of family, then you might make two lists. As always, encourage participants to volunteer to help record and/or lead the discussion with you.

Tell participants that in this activity they are invited to re-imagine a family tree, thinking first about function. As in the first part of the activity, think broadly about who is in a family. Spend a few minutes talking about traditional family trees. Many participants will have past experience either making or talking about family trees. Ask participants some questions to uncover what they know about family trees. Traditional family trees show a family's ancestry. (In this exercise participants will draw family trees showing the people who are actively in their lives right now.)

Use the following prompts if they are helpful. List ideas on newsprint. Invite a participant to be a scribe.

  • What is a traditional family tree?
  • Who will make a quick sketch of a family tree? (on newsprint)
  • Have you ever made a family tree?
  • What kind of information is missing from a family tree?

Invite participants to reinvent a family tree. You might explain, "Family trees usually identify who is in the family-they often show ancestors. They are not, traditionally, about the functions of the family. In this activity, we are going to think first about who is actively involved in your life right now, who helps and supports you and not so much about biological relations. We are going to make family trees that reflect who serves the functions of a family for you right now. There may be ancestors who are actively important to you on a daily basis, but there may not be. This may or may not include some or all of your relatives. This may include friends. It may include teachers. It may or may not include people that are close to you-sometimes we get a lot of care from people in organizations such as schools or churches." If the group seems to understand the project, then proceed to the next step. It is all right if participants approach the project with their own ideas about how to create the tree.

Some groups may wish to go through an example of this new kind of family tree together. In that case, work together on an example. Ask participants to choose four or five functions of their family, broadly construed, which are most important to them today, at this moment. Offer the following ideas as needed: love, guidance about life issues, shelter, help in making decisions about social issues, help in making life choices, fun, money, and so on. The functions of the family that participants choose are the four or five branches of the tree. Draw them on newsprint if necessary. Explain that the next step is to envision who serves those functions; that is how they will figure out who belongs on the branches. Questions such as, "Can I put one person on more than one branch?" can be decided as a group or left for individual decision-making.

Urge participants to enliven their family trees by adding details about the listed family members. For example, one person may be good at talking through problems about schoolwork, while another is good at helping with social issues. Invite participants to think of different contexts.

After participants complete the family trees, engage them in discussion. Since family trees contain many details, it is easiest for participants to share first in small groups or pairs and then with the whole group. If a participant does not create a family tree, simply allow him/her to listen. Respect participants' ability to engage and withdraw as needed.

After preliminary sharing, gather participants together for reflection. Use the following prompts as needed:

  • What was challenging about creating this kind of family tree?
  • What did this kind of family tree capture that traditional family trees leave out?
  • What did this kind of family tree leave out that traditional family trees usually include?
  • Do you think that the people you include in your family tree will vary over time?
  • What defines a family?
  • Can a family be defined by the functions it serves?
  • What other features and characteristics define a family?
  • Can faith-Unitarian Universalism-help define a family?
  • Think about what you know about Unitarian Universalism and what you know about the functions of a family. Are there common guiding ideas or principles?