Last summer as we struggled to parent our newest family members I never would have guessed that I would have the time, much less the inclination to write an article about home schooling adopted kids in just ten short months. However, because of the techniques we’ve learned from books such as “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control”, and “The Connected Child”, seminars like the one we attended in February of 2007 with Juli Alvarado, and the incredible support and prayers of our family and friends-our family has stabilized and our home has become a haven instead of a war zone.
Home schooling my three kids is one of the greatest joys and most undeniable challenges I’ve ever faced. My kids are 9, 7, and 6 and my biggest trial lies in teaching not only to their intellectual ages, but also to their emotional ages. I am certainly no expert, having home schooled for only three years, but I am hoping to give some good suggestions about establishing routines while still remaining flexible, teaching to a child’s developmental needs without sacrificing academic content, and some curriculum choices we have made in our family that seem to facilitate the type of learning many special needs kids thrive with.
Let’s get started talking about routines. I find that adoptive parents faced with extreme behaviors often do one of two things. They either set up such structure in their childrens’ lives that their kids are stifled and stressed out, or they have no boundaries or expectations at all, choosing to excuse every behavior but never re-training their children in appropriate ways of expression. Neither path is helpful and when you home school there is no where to hide- you are responsible for their education and you have to have a plan. I have found that routines with flexibility offer the most hope for a peaceful home. Let me explain what that looks like.
In my house I have two boys that rise fairly early and a girl (the youngest) that is generally a late riser. Instead of dragging Rose out of bed before she is ready, and fighting with her all morning because she hasn’t had enough sleep, I let her sleep in and use the morning to eat breakfast with the boys and focus on them. Often, we will play a game together after breakfast before they even get dressed. ( I try to be up, dressed, and have some quiet time before either of them get up.) Then, they get dressed and brush teeth. If my middle child, Gabriel, is being reluctant about dressing we set a timer and see if he can beat it. He loves any game and this always works. Usually by this time Rose is up and needs some snuggles so the boys play together while I tend to her and get her breakfast. Once she is dressed we start our “three Rs” with Mom bouncing back and forth between the three kids as they do their math workbooks first. Then, Ezra, my oldest, does his handwriting, grammar, and silent reading while I do phonics and reading with the younger two. If I need some one on one with Rose or Gabriel, Ezra is assigned reading aloud to the child who isn’t with mom. The younger kids love this and it encourages closeness between siblings which is nice, since they have only lived in the same house for a year!
After an hour of this, the children usually need some exercise and are sent out to jump on the trampoline or I let the boys wrestle indoors if it’s cold or rainy. During this time I get some chores done before bringing them back in for read aloud time. First, we do picture books relating to the unit we are doing at the moment (I’ll talk more about Konos later, the curriculum we use for all the other subjects) and then we do a chapter book. The younger kids are not great at listening yet so they are allowed to play quietly on the floor with cars or Polly Pockets while we read the book that is geared toward the oldest. After we talk about what we just read, they are free to play until lunch. Following lunch we do our unit studies with all three children together. The Konos curriculum includes all Science, History, Music, Art, Drama, PE, Practical Living Skills, Geography and Bible for every child’s needs. This curriculum is hands-on and we do the projects together, exploring each subject with a variety of mediums. My kids love this part of the day and are learning things I never thought they would be able to learn at such a young age because they are doing and discovering instead of just memorizing facts for a test. We do science experiments, learn about famous people, and act out moments in history. We take nature walks do dissections, and practice positive character traits using puppets or role playing.
The next part of our day is rest time. Most days this means playing quietly in rooms for an hour while mom regroups. Some days the kids actually need a nap and stay on their beds with books in the hopes that they will fall asleep. Directly following rest time is snack time and every other day we have 30 minutes of computer time for each child. (This is fun time where the kids choose a game to play.) On the other days I try to have an easy craft out that the kids can do mostly on their own while I clean and get dinner started. One thing we’ve learned is that TV spells disaster for our kids. Because of this, we’ve eliminated it altogether accept for the occasional movie. Craft time has replaced TV time in the afternoon.
By this time, Dad is nearly home and he often takes over after a brief conversation with Mom. He takes the kids on bike rides, plays games with them, reads stories, or has them help him with chores while I’m getting dinner on the table. After dinner everyone gets ready for bed and we listen to books on CD, read aloud as a family, or play a family game before bedtime for the little ones. Rose and Gabriel are in bed most nights no later than 8pm and sometimes earlier. Ezra gets to stay up for an hour after them to have time with us by himself.
Generally speaking, my kids know what to expect from our days and this makes a huge difference in their attitudes and behavior. What I just described would be considered a really good day-often I have to switch things up because somebody needs something slightly different. There are some basics that make up the skeleton of our days that don’t change much. Morning routines, mealtimes, reading aloud, rest time, and bedtime routines are all essential to a successful day. Other parts can be lengthened; shortened, changed around, or eliminated altogether if need be according to what is going on in our home at the moment. Our day isn’t regimented; it just has a flow to it.
Because we school year ’round, I don’t stress if we have to snuggle on the couch for most of the day a few times a month. Having my kids in the right frame of mind for learning means I know when to push on and I know when to pack up the tough stuff for the day and call it quits. My main goal right now is to teach them to trust me, teach them character, and work consistently on reading. The other things will fall into place as their brains heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.
Typically, parents with adopted children have an extra layer of issues to deal with on a daily basis that makes home schooling especially challenging. Adopted children need so much from us that home schooling appears to alleviate problems that are often exacerbated by the public school system that doesn’t often understand the adopted child as someone who needs an extra dose of understanding. The last thing we want in our human selfishness is to have to deal with all those issues ourselves with no “break”! I assure you though; the rewards far outweigh the heartaches.
Gabriel was attending a fabulous public school (while still a foster child) with a wonderful teacher, an amazing caseworker, and a staff bending over backwards to help our family. In spite of all this, we were experiencing behavioral problems at home because of the stress school brought into the equation. After six months of home schooling him, these problems are all but gone. We have slowly been weaning him from medications he’s been on since the age of three and still we are seeing progress we never saw until the stress of public school was removed. Not everyone has the option to home school, but we have found it to be the best way to build the relationships in our family that will help our traumatized kids heal.
Update: My kids are older now (12, 9, and 8) but this article is still relevant. I wanted to re-submit it in the hopes it could encourage others.