Homeschooling and Adoption (CHEWV Conference)

Pretending to work during a break


This  past weekend I spoke at the CHEWV conference and I promised some ladies I would post my notes on my site today so they could share. Positive Adoption will be back to our theme of the month, PLAY, tomorrow.

I always start my brainstorming process for a speech or topic with a question and when I was asked to speak at CHEWV conference (Christian Home Educators of West Virginia) I started with this question: Why homeschool adopted children?

!. Connection/Attachment

2. Language

3. Relationship with Learning

IMG_0151 CHEWV speaking

Jerry and I traveled to Poland fifteen years ago to adopt a sibling group of four to add to our three biologicals. I’m only sharing a snippet of our story for time’s sake, so if you would like to know the whole story, you can find it in my book, Positive Adoption: A Memoir. The adopted children were seven, six, four and seventeen months to give us stair-steps of twelve, eight, seven, six, five, four and seventeen months. My new children had lived in an orphanage fro the better part of two years, the youngest had lived in the hospital for four months until he was transferred to an orphanage for infants when his health was stable. In other words, my children had little or no home experience. Each of them struggled with attachment issues common to children raised in an institution.

So what does this has to do with homeschooling?

1. Connection

Let’s go back to the beginning.

In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth.- Genesis 1:1

In the beginning, God created our children. Each of them has a beginning.

The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:2

The earth has a history. Before God spoke it into existence, it was without form and void. There was darkness. Each of our children have a past. They may have darkness. Void. Hurt. Rejection. Abandonment.

After God created the earth and all that is within it, He created man and woman, Adam and Eve. We can look at God’s priorities for His children and follow in His steps. His priority? His intent? Connection. He walked and talked with Adam and Eve. He gave them the gift of Himself and time.

A child adopted internationally or through foster care has a past. What he needs is connection. The attachment cycle is as simple as it is profound. This cycle begins as a newborn. The infant has a need, expresses a need, the need is met, the cycle is complete. This happens over and over. Like a circle, the cycle is complete. A child is hungry, he cries, he is fed. A child has a wet or soiled diaper, he cries and is changed. A child wants to be held, he cries and is held.

Image27 attachment cycle

The child attaches.

When a child comes from a hard place, that is abuse, neglect, abandonment through circumstances or someone else’s choices, the attachment cycle is broken. It doesn’t make that complete circle. The child gets stuck in survival mode, which is just a fancy way of saying, he depends on himself to meet his needs. He becomes the master of control.

Children raised in institutions or moved from placement to placement usually have attachment issues. In order for these children to attach to new parents, this cycle must be completed over and over. In essence, the parents must go back to the beginning, to where there is darkness in the child’s life and bring the light of attachment. In order to do this, the parent must be present. Dr. Purvis, the author of The Connected Child, recommends that parents stay at home with the new children for three-months, cocooning,meeting the child’s needs (I say the  longer the better). The parents must meet the child’s needs in order for them to attach. Feed the child. Bathe the child. Read bedtime stories. The cycle will begin to complete. Over and over.

Homeschooling is the best option for the child with attachment issues because it gives the child the one commodity you cannot get back, time. Time spent at home gives parents loads of opportunities to attach. You attach when you prepare meals, the children beside you, helping, shoulder to shoulder or shoulder to hip, setting the table, cleaning off the table, reading on the couch snuggled together, sorting laundry, etc..

The child has needs,you meet the needs,the child, the child attaches to you, not someone at school, or worse, stays stuck in survival mode.

IMG_0112 CHEWV table 3

2. Language.

When the Gentile converts joined the early church, they didn’t know the language of the Gospel. It was new to them. They had a new-found love, a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ and they begged for the language this new family spoke. “Teach us! Tell us what we must do!” (Major paraphrasing here) The apostles knew the language of love was too overwhelming to teach all at once and the old habits were too much to tackle all at once, so they boiled it down to this:

But we should send word to them in writing to abstain from and avoid anything that has been polluted by being offered to idols, and all sexual impurity, and [eating meat of animals] that have been strangled, and [tasting of] blood.-  Acts 15:20

The apostles did not want to lay great burdens on the new converts. So, they chose two requirements to start with. The new converts didn’t speak the language of grace and the Gospel yet and neither did my new Guires. In fact they spoke a foreign language (much like the new converts)

The language obstacle was quite a hurdle. My go-to-phrase,”Pkaz me (show me),” wasn’t going to work forever. I called my friend Kelley, long time homeschooler and Sonlight adviser and asked her advice, “READ, READ, READ.” She went on to add, “read it to them whether they understand it or not.” Andrew Pudewa says, “You cannot get something out of a child’s brain that isn’t in there….Getting something into a brain is a prerequisite of getting it out.”

I began reading to my children above their level of comprehension. We read Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Cricket in Times Square, The Sign of the Beaver, Walk the World’s Rim and more that first year. The kids colored or played with Legos while I read. And the amazing thing, they stopped me and asked questions, albeit in broken English, they were learning, “Why he go there? Why he do that? You mean he die?”

Polish wasn’t the only language my newbies spoke. While they were learning the English language through hearing it and conversing with siblings, there was another language that needed addressed.They spoke the language of anger, of bitterness. It came out in tirades, cursing. When it got to the point that my children were using Polish as angry-speak, I set my food down. “No more Polish! English only!”

Gregory came to me later, “Mom, Damian not listen to what you say. He speak Polish.”

“Oh,” I replied, “what did he say?”

“He say Coca Cola!”

It is through the mediums of connection and language that we receive the Gospel. Connection (sonship) and language (the language of the Word) that is able to save our souls. The early Gentile converts craved this Word. They knew it was needed to change their habits, their suppositions and practices. It is the same for our children. They must hear the language of the Gospel at home. They must leave old thinking and being patterns behind. In order to do this, these patterns must be replaced with something new.

When Ania was four, she was a thief (yes, this story is told with her approval). She had a cute turquoise backpack that I had bought for her. She wore that backpack all day long. And all day long, she picked up toys, candy, whatever she found around the house and put it in her pack. At the end of each day, I had an added bedtime ritual, helping Ania empty her backpack and return the items to the rightful owner. I couldn’t be angry or expect her to know better. You see, no one had told her that what she was doing was wrong. Growing up in an orphanage where communism was the rule of the day, ownership was a new language to her. She needed to learn it slowly. The best place for her to learn the new language was at home. I had to be present and patient. Homeschooling is a great option for both of these.


3. Relationship with Learning

My newbies spoke Polish. They each had developmental and a capital letter syndrome or two, FAS, RAD, Sensory issues and the like. We faced these issues daily. My kids were warriors at battling to pay attention. Hypervigliance got the best of them some days and they couldn’t make heads or tails over a math problem or a spelling word. I learned through trial, error and many frustrating hours that at those times, some other need was more important than the spelling or math. They may have been frightened by a strange car driving past or any incident that triggered a memory. What my kids needed was felt-safety. They needed to feel safe. A child who is overwhelmed by outside stimuli cannot learn. He is too busy coping. My kids needed to find that felt-safety in order to develop a relationship with learning that wasn’t frightening.

If you are reading this and thinking, this woman is a saint, she has it all together and raised all those children, just pause, knock that halo off my head and listen. I’m not perfect. I didn’t do things perfectly. I make mistakes. I stumble. I fall. This speech wasn’t about how to raise perfect children or what the perfect way is. This is a great way to raise hurt children and help them on the path to healing and wholeness.. Homeschooling is a great way to accomplish this. It’s not an easy way. it is a hard, lace- up- your -combat- boots- every- day -way. But isn’t every worthwhile endeavor worth the work?

Confession: My youngest has some severe leaning challenges. Days can be difficult. Some days have some rays of sunshine and I try to focus on them. In the middle of this school year, I talked to a school- psychologist and a child psychologist about putting this boy in the school system for his last few years of schooling. After listening to my stories and knowing the litany of his challenges, they both advised me to keep doing what I’m doing. “He would be too overwhelmed to learn anything,” one of them said and that statement rings true in my heart. I know it to be a fact. The truth is, I’m scared sometimes that I am not doing enough or that I will just give up and say, “this is too hard,” I sometimes give into those thoughts and follow them down a dark, depressing path, then the spirit whispers the truth and I get back on track. The truth is, God gave me this child to parent and I am doing the best I can with what I have and He will do the rest.

The love or learning can only be birthed through a great relationship with learning. It comes from the spark of a question. Children asking questions is a great thing. It means they want to learn. When they do, we parents need to answer as many as we can and direct them to finding out answers. This is a life-long habit. I love seeing this habit in my adult children. When Amerey came for a visit the other day, we ended up in the library with bird handbooks strewn all over the table as we tried to find a  yellow bird with a black head. “Oh, my bird handbook!” she exclaimed happily as she pulled it off the shelf.

Homeschooling offers the ability to pursue delight directed learning: the science of cars, the science of photography, engineering, ornithology…these are just a few of the subjects we have covered along with the required subjects.

These three reasons, connection, language, relationship with learning are great reasons to homeschool adopted children from hard places. We go to the beginning and God’s original intent, relationship and connection with his children which leads us to the language of love, the Words of the Gospel which transform us because of the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s only Son, our brother, which in turn leads us to a new relationship with learning. This new relationship is free of fear because perfect love casts out all fear. Our children are freed from the bondage of their history, one baby step at a time, they walk into their future.

*I added some photos of the Moms’ Tea. What a refreshing, encouraging time!