As a teacher, what do you do at Mother’s Day or Father’s Day when you have a child in your class whose parent has died or is no longer living with them? How should you handle it? Should the event be ignored to protect those children? The answer is definitely no: don’t ignore special occasions such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Acknowledging special occasions for those in your class experiencing grief and loss empowers and supports those children in a very special way. The most teachable moments are when you reach from your heart to theirs!
The key is sensitive forward planning and preparation
Ignoring the occasions on behalf of those experiencing grief and loss only serves to further increase their sense of isolation and loneliness. Careful and thoughtful preparation is needed to mark the days for all the class, and support those particular students who might find the occasion very difficult.
For some children who do not have a biological mother at home, this day can be difficult. It is for this reason that this activity should be based around mothers or fathers in the broadest sense: the focus is not on individual person, but more on the role of mothers or fathers. It is fine for the children to produce a gift for whoever they consider to be their ‘special person’or mother/father figure.
It is good practice to let a bereaved parent know in advance of the intended lesson content and to expect a class activity gift will be brought home to mark the occasion.
It is always good practice to let any child whose mother/father has died, or a child for whom this activity may be particularly difficult, know in advance about the content of the lesson. This should be done in a very sensitive manner and not in a public way in the classroom. Once forewarned, children usually prefer to do the same as the rest of the class. Have a number of options for a bereaved child in a classroom context:
- Make a card with a special memory which can be put in a Memory Box/scrap book at home.
- Draw a happy memory.
- Draw a special time they had together.
- Draw a card with their favourite things to do or their favourite place.
- Write her/him a message on a card – to be put in their memory box/book.
- Make a memory jar to bring home.
Aim: The aims and learning intentions are based on the Irish Primary School Curriculum:
SPHE Curriculum Unit: Myself and my Family
Junior Level: The child shall be enabled to:
- Discuss and appreciate the role of mothers/fathers in a family structure.
- Identify and appreciate all those considered special both in a family and outside a family.
- Identify and name the people who constitute a family – sibling, parent, guardian, grandparent, relative, other significant people.
- Recognise and appreciate that all family units are not the same.
- Recognise and appreciate that not all families are together in the same house.
- Discuss and examine the different aspects of being together – spending time together, helping each other, sharing with each other, trusting each other.
Learning Intentions: The child will:
- Understand and appreciate the role of mothers/fathers and special people in the life of families.
- Realise that he/she belongs to a family, and that each person has a place and role within a family.
- Realise how families take care of, support and love each other.
- Explore the things that families do together talking, eating, working, travelling, shopping, playing, participating in leisure activities together ,sharing special occasions.
- Explore and acknowledge many of the things that can be learned in the family.
Alternatively, junior classes could focus on the animal world – mothers and how they take care of their baby animals (farm animals or jungle animals).
Aims: The child shall be enabled to:
- Explore and discuss different kinds of families, recognising that families vary in structure, in the way they communicate and in the way family members spend their time single-parent, two-parent, step-parent, adoptive, foster, others.
- Recognise and understand the role and responsibility of mothers/fathers in families.
- Recognise that each member has a place and role in the family and contributes to the effective functioning of the family unit helping to mind younger children helping to keep the home tidy sharing and co-operating with each other.
- Explore how belonging to a family means that family members love, protect, provide and care for each other.
- Understand that families often undergo planned or unplanned changes that may be pleasant or difficult moving house, the arrival of a new baby, the death of one member, unemployment, new job, separation, illness.
- Compare and contrast life-styles of families and the role of mothers/fathers in urban and rural areas, in different countries, and in different cultures.
- Celebrate the importance and position of key family members.
- Recognise, describe and discuss individual personality traits, qualities, strengths, limitations, interests and abilities within the family and wider family structure.
- Realise that each person has a unique contribution to make to families in the short or long term.
- Taking responsibility within the family structure – his/her own sports gear, tidying his/her own room.
- Express personal opinions, feelings, thoughts and ideas with growing confidence taking into consideration the views, opinions and feelings of others within a family structure.
- Become more confident in coping with change and with situations that are unfamiliar.
Senior classes may not be interested in activities, so the focus could shift to sensitive discussion on the very special role and qualities of mothers/fathers in general. Using examples from history or famous mothers/fathers. Compare and contrast life-styles of families and the role of mothers/fathers in urban and rural areas, in different countries, and in different cultures. Consider a class project or group work such as a collage.
- Introduce the session by talking to the class about how, because they are still growing up, there are lots of things that other people do for them.
- Invite examples from their lives the children e.g. cook meals, drive them to activities etc.
- Ask the class who does these things for them. There will be a variety of answers including dads, grandmothers etc. as well as mums.
- Without putting the spotlight on any particular child, explain that in some families there are different types of mum, or more than one mum, e.g. some families have step mums or foster mothers, and in others it might be a grandmother, a dad, or other special person.
- Explain that there are lots of different reasons for this, but in some families it is because the children’s mother has died/no longer lives with them
- However those children, as well as children whose mother no longer lives with them, often still like to think about and remember their mum in just the same way as everyone else on mother’s day.
- Explain that we are now going to think about their own mother or other special person, they can choose who.
Development: Ask some prompt questions to focus on planned activity:
- Can you remember a happy time with… ?
- Can you think of something you learned from… ?
- “Something my special person and I liked to do together was…”
- “A funny memory that I have of my special person is….”
- Talk about a time you laughed together.
- Draw a card with their favourite things to do or their favourite place.
- Thank that special person by drawing a picture and writing a message.
Explain that Mother’s Day is an opportunity to remember all the things that mothers, fathers and other special people do for us, and it’s a chance to say thank you.
Engage the class in a planned activity: paint or create a gift/token/art activity which they can then take home.
Be alert to those who may find the activity difficult, and be an active support and presence.
Closing: Acknowledge the work they have completed, and again mention again that there are people all over the world who may be sad on the particular day. If they are sad/upset on the day, suggest they plan to do something that they really like to do that day – even a small thing.
Wish them well for the day!