School and Adoption Sensitivity: The Challenge of Homeschooling Adopted Children

Homeschooling adopted children is a great option, not the only one, but a great one. I think when i say that I homeschool my adopted children, it’s as if I took the easy road, I had it in the bag. I can tell when I explain our education choice, a person has that look on her face. I took the low road, right? I didn’t have to get them up in the morning and they could do school in their pjs, right? Wrong (well, maybe pjs sometimes).

I didn’t choose homeschooling my adopted children because it was easy. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Their fears don’t disappear because I homeschooled. Their developmental delays didn’t vanish because they were home. I didn’t let them hide and settle in comfortably where they were academically, emotionally and physically. I challenged them. Every day. It was/is hard. For them. For me. And so worth it.

Last weekend, daughter Ania and I hiked to Raven Rock, about 1.5 miles to the overlook and I’m pretty sure it was ten miles on the way back, straight up. Homeschooling is like the hike. It was rocky terrain. The climb was steep. We babbled all the way down, ignorant to what lay before us on the way back. Still we enjoyed the view, both ways. We high-fived when we hit the finish line, dripping in sweat and in need of food. Homeschooling is not an even ride for adopted children. They may babble excitedly about the year until you hand out some assignments. It may be rough terrain, but the view when you and your child crest the hill, when he gets a concept, when he understands a problem, when he conquers. It’s breath-taking.

So, if you choose to homeschool your adopted children, there are some things you should do.

  1. Find a support group.

I host a Mom’s Tea at our local homeschool co-op (THESIS) every Friday during the school year. I think I got asked to host because I am on the older/wiser side of life, but this tea has been such a blessing to me. There are so many families homeschooling special needs children nowadays and the Moms at the tea understand. We have common goals and common struggles. We support each other. One Mom shared with me that she wouldn’t have made it through her first year of homeschooling without this group!

2. Don’t be afraid to throw out the formal curriculum for a season.

We parents can get so caught up in our children being academically on target that we forget that some of the children came from hard places. They don’t know how to be part of a family and we are more concerned about the fact that they cannot write their name. Practice some life skills and family habits for a while. Read books aloud. Again and Again. Practice sitting at the table for a meal as a family. Talk about what families do together as if it were natural. “See, you can do it, we sit at the table and eat together because we are a family.”

“We do chores together as a family.”

“We play games together as a family.”

3. Don’t be afraid to backtrack.

My eight year old son knew how to read and write when he joined the Guire family. The only problem for him (and me) was in Polish, not English. He had made it clear he wanted nothing to do with his native language and we had to go back to the very beginning. The alphabet. Phonics. And we did. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed, so I made sure he was in the room when the younger kids were covering phonics lessons so he got double duty.

A lot of parents are afraid their child’s education may have gaps if they go back and recover the basics instead of moving forward with the rest of his peers. I say, the child’s gaps will be wider and more noticeable if you don’t backtrack. The truth is, no one knows everything they need to know when they graduate. No one knows everything. There is always room for improvement and education is a life long habit, not a brick and mortar building. It is emotional intelligence, critical thinking and character, not just book learning.

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4. Don’t try to school like everyone else.

The culture of the United States is sameness, whether we admit it or not. Never has Pete Seeger’s tune, Little Boxes rang true as much as it does today.

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there’s doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.”

We are all trying to be the same. Just go to the sidelines of your child’s soccer game or swim meet and listen. Watch. Kids are wearing basically the same thing. Moms talk about school projects, work, recipes, shopping or their kid’s progress. We try to measure up and fit it to some sort of agenda we learned on the side lines.

Education has increasingly gone mainstream. No child left behind means teach to the middle of the class while kids at the top and kids with learning delays fall behind. No child left behind cannot work because it doesn’t fit each child’s need for education. We don’t have the resources and manpower in our school system for all of  the children with special needs, learning delays, emotional issues and then there are the kids who knock the IQ tests out of the park. So, why would we bring these kids home and do exactly what the classroom is?

Why would we mimic the classroom for the child with ADHD or a child on the spectrum who cannot hold still? Why would we follow the What Your Child Needs to Know Guide when a six-year-old child missed so many days of school in his former placement that he doesn’t know how to write his name? When he doesn’t know the difference between a letter and a number?

Find out what your child needs. Does he need to learn to be part of a family? Does he need to go back to the basics? Can he read? Can he sort colors? Shapes? Does he know what money looks like?

Homeschooling is not for everyone. I’m not knocking the school system. I come from a family full of hard-working educators. I know some awesome teachers, child psychologists and administrators. If you decide to homeschool your adopted child, it should be based on what he needs, not what other’s expect of you,not what everyone else is doing. Choose the best choice for him long-term and enjoy the journey.

Time for Adoption Talk Link Up!  Join us!

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My Autism Education

Autism will propel you into higher learning.

My Autism Education

Three years ago I found myself sitting in a classroom on the student side of the desk all because of autism. I had been doing some reading, researching and studying on the subject and I thought my son was somewhere on the spectrum and I didn’t know what that meant, so I signed up for a class for educators with daughter Amerey- Autism Training through Marshall University.

Autism gives you a special bond with others who have children on the spectrum.

I felt as if my autism investigation was a secret for a long time. I didn’t tell anyone about my suspicions at first. I kept things close to home. I talked to a counselor  who suggested I get a comprehensive evaluation done, but I felt as if I were faking it, as if all of my son’s behavior was in my mind. He would meltdown erratically at home and then be quiet and seemingly well-behaved in public. What if I’m just making excuses for behavior? What if I’m just a terrible parent, I got the first six children going and fizzled out on the seventh?

After homeschool co-op one Friday, everyone was loading up their kids in the parking lot to head home. I walked to my car thinking I should ask another mom who had two children on the spectrum a question or two. I knew she was the real deal because her kids had been evaluated. I hesitated then ran across the parking lot like a mad woman when she was shutting her back hatch.

“Hey, I wanted to talk to you about Asperger’s,”

“You think _____ is in the spectrum?”

Just then my son loped across the parking lot with that uneven gait he is famous for.

“He’s got the walk,” she said and then we talked for twenty minutes hiding from the rain under her back hatch, she encouraged me to get the evaluation and gave me some validation. It wasn’t all in my head. She had seen the signs. She had noticed.

Autism gave me a new perspective.

autism gave me a new perspective

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone processes information and events the same way. We tend to believe that everyone is motivated by the same rewards or wants the same sort of life. We have all had that friend that pushes us to do something just because they love it. We might even give into the peer pressure and try the new thing and absolutely hate it, but not say so. Kids on the spectrum will not be polite when it comes to doing things they don’t like. They tell the truth. It’s an interesting perspective. They do what they like when they like. By that I mean, they stand their ground. It’s refreshing. How many times have I volunteered for something or was coerced into an activity, such a three legged- race in which I fell on my face, that I didn’t want to do, but I did it, all the while complaining inside.

Saturday on the way home from my aunt’s funeral service, I thanked my two youngest for coming with me, my son said, “you’re welcome Mom, but I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?” That is his honest perspective. I laughed and so did he.

Some things are stupid.

My son and I have this ongoing joke about a book he is going to write. It will be a best seller. It may have a thousand pages or more and each page will have a simple sentence about one thing that is stupid.

He takes everything literally. He doesn’t catch social cues and I try to explain what is going on ahead of time or what is expected of him at a certain function. “That’s stupid” is his standard reply. All of his older siblings are probably reading this and thinking they never got away with saying things are stupid. i cut him some slack even though I get some flack for it. Truth is I know the interpretation of “that’s stupid”, it means I don’t understand, I’m frustrated, that doesn’t make sense. When I say things like, “people are coming over, get some real clothes on” and he looks down at what he’s wearing and says, “these are real clothes, that’s stupid”.

I admit some of our societal hoops are stupid. When I look at them through his lens, I re-evaluate what I expect of him. It’s more important that he knows the real important things and skips some of the stupid stuff.

For instance, we don’t have to go on every field trip, especially if I know it will put him into hypersensitive mode and he won’t retain any information and he won’t enjoy it. I don’t make him go to youth group (disclaimer*- my other children participated in youth because they could process it), he doesn’t understand the social parts and it sends him into shut down mode the next day. He helps with the Royal Ranger Program instead. I’m not saying youth group is stupid, see my interpretation of the words above. It’s overwhelming and frustrating for him.

Learning about autism is like learning a new language in a foreign country with a different culture. Once of the guest speakers at the autism training (an adult who is on the spectrum) said it’s like growing up in China when you don’t speak the language, understand the customs and you aren’t a native. You feel out of sorts all the time. If we parents can educate ourselves on the way our children on the spectrum perceive and process things, maybe we can make them feel a bit more at home in this neurotypical world. If we can sort the stupid things out for them, they can navigate social situations a with a little less stress and skip the outings that aren’t important. Just ask them what is important, kids on the spectrum tell the truth.

Delight Directed Learning/What if my child never learns his multiplication tables?

“My daughter doesn’t know her multiplication tables and she is in high school,” a homeschooling Mom lamented. “What should I do?”

It wasn’t that her daughter hadn’t learned and relearned the tables, it’s just that they didn’t stick. She wasn’t a math minded girl. This was a creative soul with a bent toward artistic pursuits and music.

We homeschool moms feel as if our children must check off the educational boxes, the sciences, history, literature, languages and mathematics. It is as if we are asking our children to fit inside a peg just slightly different from the one we pulled them out of. Children should have a well-rounded education. All of the aforementioned subjects should be taught, but we must not force our round pegged children into a square pegged hole or vice- versa. I am an adult and I cannot remember the last time anyone asked me to recite my times tables. Can you?

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This isn’t a post against math.  It is a spring-board to find your child’s gifts and talents while he is still under your roof. We homeschool moms can get a negative bent when it comes to academics- we tend to hyper focus on what our kids don’t know instead of what they do. Sometimes what they do know is buried deep because we are so determined that they excel in the one area that they are weak. We don’t take the time to dig or help them to do so and find that talent, that bent,  the desire to know more about something. We pour over lists of “What your ___ grader needs to know” or compare notes with other moms (guilty).

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I’m not an unschooler. We have a regular curriculum and we follow the guidelines of our public system- that is- we cover all the basic subjects prescribed  by our board of education. With that said, delight directed learning does have its place. God gives us the desires of our hearts. Our kids have desires. Some of those have not been discovered. And if we moms (guilty) are so adamant that they excel in all areas, we over burden them with unrealistic expectations and their desires are unmet.

Here’s a confession- I’m writing this because I need reminded. Probably every day. We moms fill our schedules so full, they muffin-top over the calender page. We make lists of things to check off. Math. Science. Grammar. Check. Check. Check. And then we careen through the day at top speed.  What of the delight? The joy of learning? The teaching towards the child’s bent? And what about learning? What actually sticks?

The love of learning comes from desires being fulfilled. I’m not talking about a hankering for sweets. I’m talking about deep questions. Kids begin asking them when they are young,

  • How do birds fly?
  • Why do we have skeletons?
  • How does a spider make a web?
  • Why are you putting baking soda in the pancakes?
  • Why does it rain?

Often, we moms squash these inquiries by shushing the kids and sticking to the text. Of course, there is a time and place for the questions and some children will ask them all day if it gets them out of seat work. We parents must discern when is appropriate and follow through with some inspection. Watch your child when he learns something new. Watch the delight. The moment of epiphany and join in the wonder.

When children become a bit older, it sometimes becomes more difficult to find those questions. The teen can become buried in required studies. There seems to be little time for delight directed learning. It takes a parent’s careful observations to help it along. Does the teen prefer essay writing or story writing? Does he like to take things apart and put them back together? Does he invent things on his own time?  Does he make up languages to add to a story he has written?

My advice to me (and you if you need it)- Slow down. Take notice. And then…. plan accordingly. Chose a course that follows the child’s desires : Ornithology? Engineering? Novel writing? Gardening?  Add it to your schedule. Make time for it. Cross something off the list a few days a week to fit it in. Don’t push your child until he is bitter and has no desire to learn. Lighten the load and add some joy. Some discovery. And if your child forgets his multiplication tables multiple times (pun intended), don’t require perfection in that area,  expect progress. That is enough.

Here are some great videos on the topic of homeschooling!

What’s so positive about adoption?

When my husband and I entered the adoption arena, we sat in an office answering questions, just sticking our toes in the water, so to speak. We had no idea the ride we were about to take. As I answered questions about my past and salty tears slid down my cheeks, I could not take my eyes off the bulletin board on the wall. It was covered with photos of children who had been adopted. So many faces. So many new beginnings. Families in red matching Christmas sweaters smiling awkwardly at the camera. Toothless cheesy grins. Vacation photos with everyone freckled and pinked by the sun. What glorious word pictures. Then….Jerry and I were handed a stack of articles to read (as homework) about adoption. Adoptions gone wrong. Children sent back. Aggressive behaviors. Reactive Attachment Disorder. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It was just. Just. Too. Much. Negative. So, I vowed, from that time on to be a spokeswoman for the positives about adoption. Yes, all of the above do exist in the adoption world.  Yes, it is hard work. Yes, there is a semi truck or two full of ‘doing it afraid’. In spite of all of the above, the positives do outweigh the negatives. So, what is so positive about adoption?

1. Life.15884219791_a5340d925e_o

Adoption gives a child life. When a birth mother chooses adoption over abortion, she chooses life. And that’s a good choice. Children adopted from orphanages also have life chosen for them. Often the conditions of the orphanage, or the medical treatments available (or not) can cause an early mortality rate. Thus adoption gives a child a chance at life.

12 Even the darkness hides nothing from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.(A)

13 For You did form my inward parts; You did knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth! Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well.-Psalm 139:12-14

2. Family.991a5-734564_10102206751035289_8055644100156408810_n-001

Adoption gives a child a family. Or in the case of my adopted children, it gives a sibling group a family and the ability to keep part of their family intact. Foster care is wonderful and often it leads to family. But, adoption ensures a family. An institution or group home is no place for a child to grow up, being wards of the state until they age out of they system. Everyone needs a family, no matter what age they are. Family is who you bond with, celebrate birthdays and holidays with, go on vacations with. Family is who you come home to.

 God places the solitary in families and gives the desolate a home in which to dwell; He leads the prisoners out to prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.- Psalm 68:6

3. Adoption gives child a hope and a future.6a5a3-102_85782bedited

Many foster children age out of the system without a hope or an idea for a future. The same is true with children in orphanages. Adoption gives them that hope. It gives them choices in education. It gives them security and with that the child can find their gifts, their talents and try them out. Have you ever had a hope? A dream? Did you see it come to pass? Some children have the dream of having their own clothes or owning some sports equipment. Some have dreams of eating three meals a day. With those three meals a day in their bellies, they can dream about other things, art, reading literature and maybe becoming a scientist.

When my children first came ‘home’, I cried many times while I was preparing dinner. The thought that these kids now had enough food on a regular basis overwhelmed me. They had a future to think about when their needs were met. Were they going to  build with Legos or watch a video.  Were they going to read a book or make up a puppet show?. They had choices. Good ones. Not hungry bellies.

 For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome.- Jeremiah 29:11