Building the Smallest Democracy at the Heart of Society
Volume 22 Number 3
On International Family Day, May 15, you can be part of a special time of reflection, dialogue, action, and celebration promoting greater awareness and understanding of family issues.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1994 as the International Year of the Family the motif, "Building the Smallest Democracy at the Heart of Society." The objectives of IYF 1994 are to highlight the importance of families, foster a better understanding of their functions and problems, promote knowledge of the economic, social and demographic processes affecting families and their members, and focus attention on the rights and responsibilities of all family members.
In spite of the many changes in society that have altered the role and functions of the family, it continues to provide the natural framework for the emotional, financial and material support essential to the growth and development of its members, particularly infants and children, and for the care of other dependants, including the elderly, disabled and infirm.
Changes in many societies have changed the nature of what is considered a "family." However, the family remains a vital means of preserving and transmitting cultural values, and it can and often does educate, train, motivate and support its individual members.
The theme of the International Year of the Family is "Family: Resources and Responsibilities in a Changing World," and IYF 1994 offers an opportunity to celebrate families as the fundamental unit underlying the strength and wellbeing of society and to consider how we in Canada can make them stronger.
But as Anna Altmann points out in "All in the Family: Recommended Canadian Fictional Families" in this issue, "real family life ... too often falls short, dangerously short" of the ideal. As we celebrate families during the rest of 1994 and on every May 15, we should take care that our celebrations and activities do not discomfit or embarrass those among us who do not have the good fortune to have nurturing and supportive families.
In Canada, programming for the International Year of the Family is being undertaken by the Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family 1994. The Co-Chairpersons of the committee are Her Honour Judge Andrée Ruffo, a judge at the Youth Court in StJérôme, Quebec, and assistant professor with the School of Social Work, McGill University, and Robert G.J. Couchman, past president of the Donner Canadian Foundation and former part time professor in the department of Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. There are thirty-two members in all representing every part of Canada.
The following "idea checklist" is excerpted from the "Idea Checklist for Schools" produced by the Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family 1994. Support materials mentioned in the checklist are available from the Canada Committee.
Ideas for All Schools
-Create an IYF identity in your school by displaying posters, banners, flags, balloons or by wearing IYF T-shirts or sweatshirts.
-Use the IYF logo and slogan ("Families, the Heart of the Matter") in publications, posters, public notices, invitations, magazines, stationery, bulletins, banners, etc., or have the students create their own slogan.
-Show the IYF promotional video Families, the Heart of the Matter (available in both English and French).
-Display the IYF poster in the school or have a student contest to create their own special poster celebrating the International Year of the Family.
-Make available copies of the IYF publications in the school library. They are great resources for teachers and students alike:
1. Canadian Families assembles data, facts and figures about the structural changes that have occurred in families in recent decades.
2. The State of the Family in Canada: A National Profile is a survey of Canadian public opinion to examine what the Canadian family currently looks like.
3. The Work and Family Challenge: Issues and Options, a booklet designed to sensitize business leaders to current work and family realities and to offer a range of options that could alleviate related pressures.
4. Family Security in Insecure Times is a collection of papers examining how economic, demographic, sociological, political and cultural factors affect family security.
Ideas for Elementary Schools
-Teach students the IYF theme song, "River of Love," co-written by David Foster with lyrics co-written by Bryan Adams (cassette, CD and sheet music available).
-Have students and/or visiting family members place markers on a world map that identify where their relatives and ancestors live(d).
-Create a special IYF display promoting the importance and diversity of families.
-Develop a book of family treasures where students can submit pictures, photographs, favourite family recipes, etc., that illustrate treasures that have special meaning for their families.
-Invite a panel of parents and professionals to listen and respond to presentations from the classroom on a series of topics related to family life.
-Develop school projects that foster contact between and among families of different cultures.
-Bring community role models into the classroom to speak to students about the impact of their families, past and present, on their current positions.
-Hold an essay, poster, poetry or art contest on aspects of family life, e.g., "What is important about my family," "What makes a family a family," or "How I see family life in the future." Display work at school, in public places, in community newspapers, etc. Consider selecting work for inclusion in an anthology on families, from the perspective of youth.
-Invite seniors and parents to participate in the school program by sharing different aspects of family life. A Plan assignments that focus on family traditions, values or relationships.
-Create projects that need input from family members, e.g., have students interview family members on aspects of their lives, origins, profession, accomplishments, for a presentation to the class.
-Create a mural about families in a visible place in the school. Ask the parents to contribute photos or items that are significant to their families and have the children participate in the making of the mural.
-Promote better understanding of the diversity of families by learning about the environments in which they live. Ask the students to create an exhibit to illustrate the differences using items provided by parents.
-Create a school family tree with the participation of students, teachers, staff and parents (immediate family).
-Have the children find out how many languages are spoken in their class or in the school and create a "language graph," or pinpoint all the locations on a world map.
-Have students plan and host an open house breakfast or an end-of-the-day picnic in the school grounds for family members, relatives (since these are the times when they may be available).
-Ask the children to write and illustrate a story about their families, focusing on a special event, a special person, a special relationship, a birth or death, a funny story, and circulate the books within the class or the school.
-Have children create their own family "tree" by drawing family members and hanging the pictures from small dried branches set in a pot.
-For "show and tell," suggest the children bring to school something that tells a story about their family, origins or traditions.
A Recognize parents' or family members' efforts in volunteering their time or participating in school activities by having the class send thank-you notes.
-Incorporate a family theme in theatre or musical productions.
Ideas for High Schools
-Consider research activities with a family focus: for example, encourage research on the role of families within various social and cultural contexts.
-Develop an anthology of students' writings about families.
-Set up a speaker's bureau on family matters.
-Suggest family themes for debates.
-Create a "parent expertise" databank, where students have access to parents' expertise or know-how for help or consultation in specific fields or for projects.
-Invite a board member of the Canada Committee or other individuals in the community involved in activities devoted to the family to speak about a family-related issue during an assembly, a special event or to an individual class.
-Invite students of various ethnic backgrounds to present dances, songs, special traditions, history or food to their classmates or the school.
-Invite key government officials (municipal, provincial or federal) to participate in special debates dealing with policies on family-related issues. This would be a good opportunity for students to familiarize themselves with how governments deal with family issues and to have input into future policy-making.
-Hold a baby picture contest (students and teachers) to match the students' and teachers' baby pictures with their current photos.
The Canada Committee in collaboration with the Bureau québécois de l'Année internationale de la famille is producing an International Year of the Family teachers' activity guide, which will be distributed to elementary and secondary schools in most parts of Canada in June. The Bureau québécois de WAIF in collaboration with the Centrale de l'enseignement du Quebec will be distributing the activity guide in Quebec in September. The Manitoba Family Year - 94 Secretariat has also produced its own activity guide, which was distributed in Manitoba in April.
For more information on the International Year of the Family 1994 contact the Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family 1994 at 63 Sparks St., Suite 112, Ottawa, Ont. K1P 5A6; (800) 567-0030.
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