LAMBERTVILLE N.J. (Reuters) - The first-grader at Lambertville Public School grinned as he posed for a photo wearing an enormous pair of men’s wingtips to make a Father’s Day card that said, “Nobody fills your shoes.”
Then he raised his arms in a goofy pose for a second card - this one for his other father.
The boy, whose fathers asked that his name not be used because of his tender age, is one of some 125,000 U.S. children being raised by same-sex couples, according to demographer Gary Gates at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.
That number, which has risen by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010, the latest figures available, is expected to climb as the marriage equality movement gathers momentum, with gay nuptials now legal in 20 states.
The changing American family means changes in the ways schools mark, or opt to skip, holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Gay and civil rights groups offer teachers tips - from ignoring the holidays altogether to using them to teach lessons about diverse families.
“Feeling welcome is conducive to learning. This isn’t about putting a rainbow flag outside,” said Ellen Kahn, spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian and transgender people and families.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, takes a different view. He says using holidays to teach children about diverse families brings sexuality into the classroom and undermines the wishes of parents who do not want their children taught about same-sex marriage in school.
“Of course the kids then ask questions, ‘Doesn’t it take a man and a woman to make a child?’ ‘What do two men or two women do?’” he said. “You’re now bringing this into the classroom. And that’s the intent.”
As the political debate swirls, some teachers armed with crayons, glue sticks and dried macaroni are finding their own ways to teach children in increasingly non-traditional families about traditional holidays.
One school in Georgia, a state that bans gay marriage, started the year by asking first-graders to describe their families, responding to each with, “Thanks for sharing that with us.”
The method made one little girl comfortable enough to say she has two mothers, said Grace Shickler, principal at the Atlanta-area High Meadows School.
While setting tables for a Mother’s Day brunch, a young boy said of his classmate, “She has some extra work to do because she needs two spots for her moms,” Shickler said.
When teachers asked if other students would help the girl lay two place settings, “many hands went up,” Shickler said.
In Lambertville, Doug Graiver said he had been reluctant to attend a Mother’s Day spa at his son’s nursery school, but was encouraged to do so by the teacher.
“As soon as I got there, my kid just jumped up beaming, grabbed my hand and took me to the nail station and painted my fingernails,” he said. “He was so relieved when he had his family there with him.”
Now, two years later, his son’s first-grade teacher Mary Jane Legere strives to use the term “family” over “mother and father” in the classroom.
For a Mother’s Day project, she encouraged the boy to focus on “My Family” while others wrote about “My Mom.” On Father’s Day, she suggested making two slightly different Father’s Day cards to celebrate each of his dads.
“This is the right age group to foster tolerance,” Legere said. “If we could talk to all of them at such a young age, we could wipe out prejudice.”
Additional reporting by Rebecca Doser; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson