Summer break is a good time to think about possible topics for projects for the upcoming school year. The creation of a class album could work well for the start of the new school year, especially if the children are new to each other and to the teacher. Such a pre-project, as we might think of it, can involve the children in collecting data about their families with which to create a class album.
Because some of the children might be living with a single parent or a grandparent, or they might be adopted or living with foster parents, it is probably best to use the broad term “family” or even in some cases “adults in your household” instead of simply referring to “parents” and assuming that every child has two parents.
The teacher could begin by bringing an album of her own into the class to help the children to understand what is meant by the term “album” and to show it as an example of what they might create. The next step could be to engage the children in a discussion about what information they think should be included in their class album about each of their families/households. The teacher can indicate to the children that they themselves will be collecting the information at home, bringing it to the group to share with each other, and then putting it into the class album.
Another possible way to introduce the project might be for the teacher to share with them some facts and other basics about her own memories of when she was their age. For example, she might say, “When I was 5 years old, I went to kindergarten” and “I used to walk to the school.” She might also provide other facts that the children could possibly relate to.
Deciding What Information to Collect
As in all project planning, the ages and experiences of the participating children must be taken into account.
In the case of preschoolers, it is not usually effective to ask them what questions they want to ask their family members. It seems to work better if the teacher poses the question, “What would you like to find out about your Mom (Dad and/or grandparents) when they were the same age as you are?” This question might be stated in terms of “…when they were as big as you are?”
If the response is slow, the teacher could suggest a few possible questions and help the children to create a survey form, with “Yes” and “No” columns that young children can easily learn to use. They could ask significant adults they live with questions like the following:
- When you were as old as I am, did you go to school?
- Did you walk to school?
- Did you go on a school bus?
- What did you like doing there?
- Did (or do) you have a big brother/sister?
- Did you have a little brother/sister?
- Did you have a special teddy bear or other stuffed animal?
Note that the phrasing of the survey questions should vary with the ages of the investigators. For example, the youngest surveyors might ask, “When you were 4, did you go to school?” Five-year-olds might ask questions that start with “When you were my age, did you go to school?” or “When you were as big as me, did you go to school?” Older children might want to ask questions like “What games did you like to play when you were my age (or as old as me)?” “Do you remember some friends you had when you started school?” “What was your teacher’s name?”
Some questions might need a few lines on the survey on which the adult can write answers (and read them to the child). Such questions might include the following:
- When you were as old as me, what was your favorite toy?
- When you were my age, do you remember being scared of something?
The teacher could also suggest to the children that they make a drawing of each person in their household they want to include in the album. The children can bring their data and drawings to the class, report their findings with their classmates, and discuss similarities and differences among the adults interviewed (e.g., some have big brothers, some no brothers, etc.).
With the help of the teacher, the children can create an album that will help them to know more about each other and that will convey the teacher’s appreciation for strengthening closeness among class members. The album can also serve to introduce family members, visitors, and others to their class community.
In the process of this pre-project of developing the class album, the children will have practice in formulating questions, taking surveys, drawing from observation as well as from memory and imagination, collecting and assembling data, and sharing with classmates what they have found out. All of these activities will contribute to the project work that they will undertake during the rest of the year.