Part 2 The Cycle of Life
Lesson 1 Birth and Early Childhood
Your First Communion was usually made when you were in 2nd grade of schooling. Girls wore a white dress, veil, communion pin, white socks and white shoes. Girls were given Crystal Rosary as the male child received Ruby Rosaries. . . . This period began your life as a Christian and to become accountable for what is morally right.
--Barbara Trevigne, Orleans Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
Students begin their study of the cycle of life by researching creation myths of various cultures, collecting birth stories and beliefs, and surveying milestones in early childhood. Students learn that all cultures share stories about the beginning of life and traditions that welcome a child into the world. Students will collect beliefs from family and community members about pregnancy, birth, and prediction of a baby's gender. They will also decide what milestones are important to a young child in their community.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students read and compare creation and aetiological or "why" stories of different cultures.
2. Students learn the concept of the cycle of life.
3. Students collect and analyze birth and childhood folk beliefs and stories in their families and other regions of Louisiana.
4. Students identify important milestones in their own and other children's lives and create personal childhood timelines.
2-5 class periods
Supplies or software to create charts, diagrams, printed stories, drawings, timelines. If your students will be doing fieldwork, you may need digital cameras, audio recorders, or video recorders in addition to notepads and pencils as well as appropriate fieldwork forms. Print out and duplicate any worksheets or rubrics that you will be using.
Background Information for the Teacher
An obstetrical nurse who is also a folklorist has collected birth stories from many women. She has found that elderly women with severe memory loss can recall stories of their children's births, yet often children do not know their own birth stories. Every culture has folk beliefs about birth. For example, many 8th grade girls, whose lore is full of fortunetelling, may know beliefs to predict the gender of a baby. (See Sample Fieldnotes for a discussion of this tradition and sample fieldnotes.) If you want, start this unit by reading and comparing creation stories from around the world, or eliminate that step and begin by collecting gender predictions and beliefs about birth and babies. We all came from somewhere, but some families and some students may prefer to keep their stories private. One approach would give students the alternative to research creation myths and "why "stories and assign others to research birth stories. In his introduction to Swapping Stories, Carl Lindahl writes that myths and aetiological or "why" stories "hearken to the distant past and serve to explain the origins of current phenomena. These tales depict the ancient actions of gods and people that caused the world to take on its present form and properties. Myths have special religious significance. They may be believed literally . . . or figuratively, as explanations about the origins of certain natural phenomena; or as metaphorically moral truths about the working of the world." In contrast, "why" stories may be serious or humorous and may provide lessons but are not sacred.
Think about what is appropriate for your students in discussing and researching birth and pregnancy stories. An alternative is to cover milestones in early childhood or research naming traditions in depth (see Unit 3 Lesson 3 Activity 1 Naming Traditions). Accumulate some books on creation myths from around the world (see Unit IX Resources) and read some Louisiana tales such as Learning from the Bear, A Chitimacha Flood Story, or Why the Frog Croaks. Recall any beliefs you may have heard about predicting whether a woman will give birth to a boy or girl and ask a few colleagues for beliefs. Read Waiting For Babies: Lay Widwifery in Louisiana to see if it is appropriate for your students. Send a letter home (see Letter to Parents and Caregivers) explaining your plans to study the cycle of life. Describe how you will safeguard any photos or mementos students bring to class. Relay that if families want students to have alternative activities, you will make those arrangements, and offer to speak with parents who may have concerns about stories of births, marriages, and other rites of passage, as well as death and dying, which are covered in the following two lessons. Students may interview people other than their own family members. Review Enhancing a Poetry Unit with American Memory, which illustrates how to write "found poetry" from life stories. See Found Poetry Based on Elsie Wall for an example. If you want students to use these resources and they are written above their reading level, use Adaptation Strategies to build lessons around them.
8th Grade Activities
1. Assign students to read different creation myths and "why" stories (see Unit IX Resources and stories from Swapping Stories such as Learning from the Bear, A Chitimacha Flood Story, or Why the Frog Croaks). A whole unit could be done on such stories, but this lesson uses them to inspire students to think about how all cultures have such stories, which may relate to cultural values and beliefs. Print and duplicate the Data Chart and review the directions with the students. Tell them to jot down ideas as they do their readings. In the next class, start a discussion comparing these stories. As a class, categorize motifs; look for similarities and differences. What do these stories say about the cultures? How might each culture view the cycle of life? Ask students to add more data and conclusions to their Data Charts.
2. In another class period, ask whether anyone knows ways to predict a baby's gender. If there are several, ask a student to take notes. If you are comfortable discussing pregnancy and birth stories, ask students to share birth stories about themselves or siblings aloud; alternatively, ask them to write these stories. For homework, students may either interview family members to learn more about their own births or collect beliefs about pregnancy and birth: gender predictions, multiple births, birth order, good luck, omens, special foods thought to be good for the mother or baby, significance of birth hours or days of the week, traditions such as giving away cigars for a boy baby.
3. As a class or in teams, share results of students' research through discussion and start to classify the data collected. Are there similar themes in birth stories? How many different, perhaps conflicting, beliefs were collected? Do any folk groups share common beliefs? Discuss students' perceptions of what is medical fact (taking B vitamins during pregnancy is very important, for example) and what is traditional belief or superstition ("Sunday's child is full of grace"). Work with students to determine methods to display data--charts, diagrams, printed stories, drawings, photographs of students taken soon after birth.
4. What milestones in babies' lives do students find important? Individually, in teams, or as a class, make a timeline using timeline software or draw a timeline depicting what steps students find important, for example, going home from the hospital, first smile, first tooth, first word, crawling, walking, potty training, and so on. They should illustrate the timelines with drawings, photos, and mementos such as booties, rattles, or copies of birth certificates for display in the classroom.
5. Birth and childhood traditions of different religions vary in Louisiana. Some people have naming ceremonies, others have christenings or a Bris (Jewish circumcision ceremony). Protestant and Catholic christenings and baptisms differ. In some religions, children are not baptized but christened at birth and then become members later, when they are considered old enough to make the decision on their own. Ask students to interview someone who belongs to a different denomination or religion about these traditions or to research the traditions of their own religion. They could draw a map illustrating who stands or sits where and what happens during a ceremony, report orally, or summarize findings by writing fieldnotes.
6. Extend the research of childhood milestones through elementary school. What formal and informal rites of passage are important in your school or community. Is there a kindergarten graduation? When do children move from T-ball to softball? What privileges do "big kids" get? When can students become safety patrols or babysitters? How do bedtime rituals and household responsibilities change as we age? What is it like to wake up at home as you grow older? Are children part of any local festivals or events such as rodeos, trail rides, school fairs, Mardi Gras? What are the steps to initiation and leadership in organizations such as 4-H or Scouts? Students may also refer back to their work on childhood games and play in Unit III Lesson 1. They should add such information to their personal timelines or record it in an autobiographical scrapbook.
7. As an evaluation of how well students have analyzed the birth to early childhood cycle of life, ask them to write Found Poems by looking through their notes and considering class discussions and their research. They should choose ten key words or phrases that sum up of the meaning of the cycle for them then arrange these words or phrases in a pleasing and meaningful way to make a poem. Print and duplicate the Found Poem Worksheet for students to use while creating their poetry. They may write or type the poems and illustrate them with drawings or pictures collected for this lesson. Enhancing a Poetry Unit with American Memory illustrates how to write "found poetry" from life stories. See Found Poetry Based on Elsie Wall for an example. For extra credit students may write other Found Poetry based on their own interviews from other lessons or from life stories found in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.
8. As students read or recite their poems, have classmates share what they like about each student's presentation. Explain that they are to make specific "I liked . . ." statements about such things as the beliefs that were explained, the insights about a particular culture, the student's voice modulation and expressiveness, clarity of speech, and so on.
9. As an alternative or an extension activity, students may study birth traditions of other cultures (see Unit IX Resources) and create a report, album, or computer slide show.
10. Research naming traditions in depth (see Unit III Lesson 3 Activity 1 Naming Traditions ). This can also serve as an alternative activity for students who do not choose to investigate pregnancy and birth traditions.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Not so long ago, children had to work at an early age. Some parishes still schedule school according to agricultural seasons so children can help out. Children in many parts of the world have to work at an early age. Research childhood in different historical periods or cultures.
2. Become a memory maker for your family by encouraging family members to record important dates and care for, label, and store photos and videos properly--noting names of people on acid-free paper, for example, and storing the names with the photos. It's important to avoid "magnetic" albums with sheets of inexpensive PVC plastic, which often gives off an odor. Choose sheets of a stable plastic film called polypropylene instead, or use old-fashioned paper photo corners on acid-free paper. Find pointers on photo conservation on several Internet sites, including the American Institute for Conservation's Caring for Your Photos and Conservation on The Heritage Education Network.