With the variety of family structures and backgrounds that exist in our society, teachers are used to considering how to represent the family in the classroom. But Mother’s Day presents more of a challenge. Indeed, I have begun to wonder if a lot of our hard work is undone every year around this time.
As Mother’s Day creeps up, advertisements become more of a persistent foghorn than a useful reminder. The repeated depiction of the birth mum as the loving and omniscient figurehead is not lost on those children who ask "But what if I don’t have a mum?"
I see Mother’s Day as a balancing act, juggling excitement with sensitivity. I want children without a biological mother in their lives to feel included, so that everyone in the class can embrace the day. It’s important not just for those children to feel included, but also for their classmates to recognise and understand the difference between their experiences.
So, how can we ensure none of our children feel excluded during the assemblies and card-making activities?
1. Offer reassurance
Every child in the class needs to know that they are loved, regardless of who their primary carer is. Around Mother’s Day, it may be helpful to plan some extra circle time sessions that focus on topics like what makes your pupils special, the friendships they have with others and the different people in their lives that help and support them.
2. Keep a watchful eye
There may be quieter or seemingly more resilient children who are not necessarily on your radar, because they are usually fine, but who may be struggling in silence during the lead-up to this day. Look out for any signs of children becoming more withdrawn or anxious so that you can give them a bit of extra attention.
3. Make it OK to cry
Some children may find the day upsetting, so be clear that it is OK for them to feel this way. If they do get upset, it might help to give them a moment of privacy from other pupils – allowing them to use the reading corner to work through their emotions, for example.
4. Help pupils to share
Children might find it hard to talk about why they are upset. Try setting up a class worry box that children can use to share their thoughts with you in private. It can also be helpful for children to draw a picture of how they are feeling, especially those that are too young to express themselves through writing.
5. Carry on with Mother’s Day
Encourage all the children to participate in and enjoy any Mother’s Day activity that you lead. If you avoid or change the celebration so as not to exclude some children, it could compound their feelings of exclusion. Let everyone know that any Mother’s Day cards and presents can be for whoever looks after and loves them.
Velisha Benjamin is a primary class teacher from south-west London and previously taught in the early years