Family Stories

I have been working afternoons in the 3-4 class at the elementary school.  The lower school has some guiding questions that frame their inquiry around history and social studies. I am helping them with an investigation based on the questions "How did my people get here?", and "What is the story of Virginia's people?"
I don't see a lot of difference between scaffolding small group inquiry at the pre-school level and in the lower school. In both cases, I have the big ideas, my mental list of resources, essential questions, and media in my back pocket, ready to be brought out to support the children's learning.  At every age, when we come to a place where we need information from observation, a book or expert, we do the same thing; We ask a question and go look for the answer. People keep asking me how teaching in this way works with people who are older than pre-school age, and when I say it is the same, I don't mean that I don't expect different things for pre-schoolers, 4th graders, and College students. However, I do think the foundation is the same. We try to figure something out, find a problem, solve the problem, try again, find another problem, and in the process increase our knowledge and ability.

The children are learning about immigration and Virginia's people by starting with their own family histories. I am helping them find a way to show their family story in their own language (as in 'the hundred languages'). So far, we have someone working on a mixed-media book, a graphic novel, a sculpture, a quilt, and lots of ideas in process.
The most interesting part of working with this great group is, just like at the pre-school, the thing that is most compelling is the connections between children. It is yet to be proved, but so far we have found potential family relations, connections of geography and family origin, and great events in history.

Here are a couple of ways artists tell their family stories;

Do-Ho Suh shows us much about immigration and displacement through the images of his 'Seoul Home/L.A. Home' (a fabric replica of  a traditional Korean House that he could carry in his suitcase), and 'Some/One', made of thousands of dog tags. Pepon Osorio also works with the ideas of immigration, belonging and place in his installation"En la barbaria no se llora (No crying in the barbershop).


  1. Great project,
    I've also had the opportunity to work with Middle, High School and College students, and you're right, it is the same process.
    In reflecting, the majority of my middle school students (who I worked with to do a collaboration with 5 year olds on the idea of Utopias) said they felt more inhibited with materials than the 5's, and they wished they had more opportunities to use materials to express themselves.
    I also love the artists you posted, add Alison Saar to the list too.
    Great post!


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