ACADEMICS AFTER ADOPTION
For many families and communities, it is time for children to return to school. Families often ask about how to best help their child when it comes to their education: How soon after the adoption should they start school? What if they are not on grade level? What if they don’t fit in? What if their English is not very good yet? These are important questions to consider, but unfortunately, there is no single answer that fits all children. The coaches with America World’s ACT program are very glad to talk with you at any time about these, or any, types of concerns you may have. However, here are some general thoughts about academic pursuits and adopted children:
- The highest priority immediately after an adoption is helping the child emotionally and psychologically “settle into” a family. She needs time to adjust to a new home, family, and country. This huge transition has put her body and brain on “high alert” chemically, and it is hard to learn and experience joy when the body is on the verge of fight/flight/freeze. Give her time to start developing a solid foundation of trust, attachment, and sense of belonging in the family, allowing that overstimulating brain chemical level to come down, before spending too much time away from the family home or in stressful activities. This may be a month for some children, or six or more months for others, and can be complicated by many other factors such as age, temperament, trauma history, and academic experiences, to name a few.
- Grade placement in community school settings is always a tricky question, and age is not always a good determinant of a grade. Children by adoption often come to us with a mixed pattern of maturity with regards to raw intelligence, emotional readiness to learn, academic achievement/exposure, social skills, motor development, and physical maturity. They may be at a 6th grade level in one area, 4th grade in another, and kindergarten level in a 3rd area. Generally, it seems best to place the highest priority on where they will fit in the best (physically and socially) in a group setting, because otherwise if they are uncomfortable, it can cause stress the might interfere with learning and continued identity development. It is important to find ways to help your child catch up in areas that he may be behind so that his overall maturity is more even and education-related challenges may be less daunting.
- Most public schools and many private schools offer specialized English programs for foreign born students. These can be very helpful, especially for older students. Even if you plan to homeschool it is possible the local public school will allow your child to participate on a part-time basis in their English program. However, while this is one of the most common questions asked by many prospective adoptive families, it seems that almost all children absorb English skills quickly, and this is one of the least reported challenges following adoption.
- Social interactions can be another challenging part of school, even for homeschooling families as they participate in co-ops and group activities. Some children find social interactions to be easy and rewarding, while others struggle. Many parents find it helpful to be very close to their children in the first few months to observe and help their children with social interactions. For toddlers that may mean playing alongside your child and peers on a play date or at preschool. In elementary, it may be helpful to volunteer in the classroom and host some playtimes outside of school. For older children who may be using social media, join the online community too to monitor and interact with your child in that way. The key is to know what your child is doing, how their relationships are affecting them, and then help where you can.
- Lastly—as much as it is possible in your family, be flexible, and don’t be in a hurry. We are seeing a greater variety of school options nowadays it seems: public, homeschool, private, online, combinations of these, and more. If it is possible for your family, explore these options and see which educational pathway seems ideal for your child. Open your mind to new possibilities as you try to mesh your child’s needs and interests, and as you determine what they truly need in order to achieve their potential and dreams, with the knowledge that their emotional and psychological stability is the foundation for almost all other forms of achievement.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.