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Cover of Halmoni and the Picnic

Rich, authentic children's family involvement storybooks can be used in course work and professional development institutes to help teachers learn about and reflect on families and family involvement.

Looking at Family Involvement Processes Depicted in a Storybook

Some storybooks can be used to increase awareness of life in different families, such as culturally diverse families; some storybooks can be used to look specifically at family involvement processes, such as home–school communication.

Halmoni and the Picnic is grounded in author Sook Nyul Choi's immigrant Korean background and experience as a teacher in this country. The story is a wonderful source for helping students discuss both Korean American family customs and more general home–school involvement processes that pertain to many families. It is a valuable book to read for its family involvement story.

 Family Involvement Themes in Halmoni and the Picnic

Using the book's illustrations to help enter the story, here is a way to explore general home–school involvement processes depicted in the story of Halmoni and the Picnic.

  • First, share the book jacket description of the story, to give an idea of the story plot. Begin open-ended reflection by showing the picture of the picnic at the end (page 25) and ask participants what they see in this picture that reveals something about the connection between home and school. For example, discussion points might include:
    • The teacher and children experiencing Yunmi's culture and family customs through sharing food
    • Family space brought into the school field trip setting, seen in the laying out of the family table
    • The teacher letting the grandmother take charge of the picnic
  • Share a number of different home–school involvement processes that can be seen in the story as it progresses. These are processes that are documented in research and practice:
    • Busy working parents set up networks of support as one way to stay involved in their children's education, and kin are often involved in these networks (page 10). While both of Yunmi's parents are working, her grandmother takes her to school each morning. The grandmother is the one involved in Yunmi's school life, sharing fruit with Yunmi's friends on the way to school, picking her up at the end of the school day, and participating as family chaperone on the field trip.
    • Children are active shapers of home–school connection processes (page 17). Yunmi's friends discuss how to overcome Halmoni's loneliness and enthusiastically nominate Halmoni as the field trip chaperone. Yunmi tells her grandmother that the two of them will be able to spend the whole day together at the picnic, and that she will have fun and get to meet Yunmi's teacher.
    • Teacher outreach and welcome is important to families' participation in school events (page 22). Halmoni is helped to overcome her reluctance and chaperone the picnic when she learns that the teacher has invited her to come on the field trip. At the picnic, the teacher welcomes Halmoni and embraces her culture with great enthusiasm, modeling for the children an openness to diverse families, as she tells the class that Halmoni has prepared her favorite lunch.
    • There are many ways that families can participate in school, even if they speak a different language (page 26). Halmoni helps during the day by folding the children's jackets, preparing lunch, and turning the jump rope.
    • Families' presence in school can be a teaching opportunity (page 28). As the class thanks Halmoni for the picnic, the teacher helps her students understand how elders are addressed in Korea.
  • Discuss how the story has a happy home–school connection ending. Discussion points might include:
    • Through this formal involvement activity of the school field trip, the children incorporate Yunmi's different world into their classroom—they make up a jump rope chant composed of the Korean customs and words they have learned at the picnic, and they get Halmoni to promise to return with kimbap at next year's picnic.
    • Yunmi experiences her family's cultural background being appreciated in the school setting.
    • Halmoni feels more confident about being involved in her granddaughter's school activities and even starts to communicate in English a little with Yunmi's friends.

Family Involvement Storybooks as a Tool for Reflection

Understanding the Experiences of Others

Sharing storybooks can bring diverse voices into the classroom with accounts of home life and involvement experiences that are new to some students. These accounts may be especially new to aspiring teachers or teachers on the job with little prior experience of diverse families. Sharing storybooks can help children and adults to reflect on and understand the world around them, enter into and appreciate others' experiences, and affirm and validate the experiences, backgrounds, and identities of others.

Inspiration for Practice

Some stories can provide inspiration for student teachers, acquainting them with the special funds of knowledge that families can bring to their children's education. The stories can give student teachers new ideas about how to bring families' unique knowledge and skills into the school or how to reach out to families in their homes and communities. Some family involvement stories (like Halmoni and the Picnic) can provide models for positive teacher practices with families, including solutions to involvement dilemmas, ways to work together with families, and ways to reach families.

Exercises for Aspiring Teachers to Reflect on Family Involvement Through Stories

Ask the class to:

  • Write their own family involvement storybooks for a child audience. These can be personal stories of their school involvement as family members, or the involvement of their families when they themselves were children, or involvement tales from relatives or friends. Stories with a struggle or dilemma and stories that bring out the different perspectives of multiple actors provide rich material for discussion.
  • Connect storybooks shared in higher education settings to their own experiences through oral storytelling about their own different involvement experiences.
  • Write alternate endings to classroom involvement storybooks and discuss these as different involvement scenarios.

Reference

Choi, S. N. (1993). Halmoni and the picnic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. In the story, a student worries that her classmates will make fun of her Korean grandmother, Halmoni, who has agreed to chaperone the class at a picnic in Central Park in New York City. With help from the teacher, students learn to address Halmoni according to Korean customs and to appreciate the unfamiliar food she brings to the picnic.

Illustrations from Halmoni and the Picnic by Sook Nyul Choi, illustrated by Karen Milone Dugan. Text copyright © 1993 by Sook Nyul Choi. Illustrations copyright © 1993 by Karen Milone Dugan. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Many of the ideas in this guide were first presented at the fourth Curriculum Infusion Institute on Family Involvement in Clearwater Beach, FL, September 30, 2004. We would like to thank conference participants for contributing their suggestions and insights.

Developed by Ellen Mayer, December 2005

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© 2014 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project