Family Story Backpacks

Maria V. Acevedo & Kathy G. Short, 2011

Description of Family Story Backpacks

  • Transportable curriculum to encourage families to share stories around themes that are significant in their lives.
  • 4-6 children check out the backpacks on a rotating basis for one week to share with their families at home.
  • Each backpack contains 3 books (1 nonfiction and 2 fiction books), 1 related artifact, and a family journal. The purpose of the artifact is to encourage the family to share oral stories around the theme.
  • The journal can take two forms. Each family can have their own journal that is moved from backpack to backpack so they can keep adding to the same journal, or each backpack can have a journal on the theme that stays with that backpack and each family adds an entry and reads past entries from other families.
  • Entries in journals can be a family story related to the theme, responses to the books, or descriptions of what the family did with the backpack. Any member of the family can add to the journal and the entries can be drawings, writing, photos, etc. Families can make multiple entries related to each backpack.
  • A digital recorder to record the family’s stories can be included in the backpack.
  • The child should have a chance to share briefly about the family’s interactions around the backpack with the teacher or the class when the backpack is returned.

Examples of Family Story Backpacks

1) Time for Bed
Artifact: Baby blanket or lullaby gloworm

  • Kathy Henderson Hush, Baby, Hush! Lullabies around the World
  • Fox, Mem. A Bedtime Story – Australia
  • Braun, Sebastien. Back to Bed, Ed! – United Kingdom

2) Let’s Play 
Artifacts: Plastic ball/La Lotería cards or Old Maid

  • Stewart Konrad, Marla. I Like to Play – Global
  • Colato Laínez, René. Playing Lotería/El juego de la Lotería – Mexican
  • Tafolla, Carmen. What Can You Do with a paleta? – Mexican-Am.

3) Celebrating Birthdays
Artifact: Birthday candles

  • Hutchins, Pat. Happy Birthday, Sam – United Kingdom
  • Schuette, Sarah. Birthday Customs around the World – Global
  • Gonzales Bertrand, Diane. The Party for Papá Luis/ La fiesta para Papá Luis – Mexican Am.

4) Grandparents are the Best  
Artifact: Photo album *

  • Stewart Konrad, Marla. Grand – Global
  • Brammer, Ethriam. My Tata’s Guitar/La guitarra de mi tata – Mexican
  • Smalls, Irene. My Nana and Me – African American

*Album has photos of grandparents with an invitation for the family to add a photo

5) Families Have Many Cultures
Artifact: Skin Color crayons/ Paper Doll

  • Ada, Alma Flor. I Love Saturdays y domingos – Mexican Am.
  • Mandelbaum, Pili. You Be Me, and I’ll Be You – Belgium
  • Rotner, Shelley. Shades of People. Global

6) Rainy Days
Small plastic play umbrella

  • Keats, Ezra Jack. Clementina’s Cactus – US
  • Cotton, Cynthia. Rain Play – US
  • Germein, Katrina. Big Rain Coming – Australia

7) Together as a Family
Artifacts: Family Finger Puppets

  • Zamorano, Ana. Let’s Eat – Spain
  • Gonzáles Bertrand, Diane. We Are Cousins/Somos primos – Latinos in US
  • Kerley, B. You and Me Together – Global

8) The Story of My Name 
Artifact: ABC wooden blocks

  • Costanzo, Charlene. A Perfect Name – US
  • Colato-Laínez, René. René Has Two Names/René tiene dos apellidos – Salvadorian
  • Sanders, Marilyn & Eve. What’s Your Name? From Ariel to Zoe – Global

9) School Days
Artifact: Small white board and markers

  • Jackson, Ellen. It’s Back to School We Go – global (Ages 6-8) OR School in Many Cultures, Heather Adamson (Ages 3-5)
  • Forward, Toby, What Did You Do Today? – UK
  • Ancona, George. Mi Escuela/My School – Bilingual, US

Go to for more information about the backpacks and examples of forms that can be used to support the use of the backpacks in classrooms.


4 thoughts on “Family Story Backpacks

  1. Naheed Brown says:

    Absolutely LOVE these ideas! Just ordered my backpacks from Amazon. Will start the Backpack rotations from next week!! I am so excited! Thank you for the suggestions!

  2. Maggie Burns says:

    I am involved in sending Family Backpacks home with a group of striving ENL students in Grade 1. My group consists of students who speak Arabic, Karin, and Spanish. One of the issues that has come up is in translating the books for the families. We have translators through our school district, but the turnaround time is longer than we would want, especially if a book comes into the group awareness and they want to read it at home. Do you have any suggestions for translating books and letters home to families? Thank you!

  3. Kathy Short says:

    In a related project in Nashville, they had the books in their backpacks translated ahead of time in the major languages of their families. The translations were printed on large post-its that were then slid into the book over the English print. That made it easy to quickly convert a book as needed. They had those translations done in the summer ahead of time, that meant that it was only an occasional language that needed translation. Also, we tried to include a wordless book or a book with only a few words in each backpack. In other cases, we located bilingual books in English/Spanish to put in backpacks. Finally, we found that often the books were read aloud to the child by an older brother or sister or aunt with proficiency in English, rather than by the parents.

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