Friday, March 15, 2013

Bringing adoption to kindergarten

Anya in a nightgown Grandma sewed.

Today, I was a guest in my daughter's kindergarten class.  I brought in a basket of props and a doll, took a deep breath, and gave a basic explanation of adoption.  My goal was to talk about adoption at school while Anya isn't self-conscious about the topic or about having me in class -- and hopefully to introduce her classmates to positive adoption terminology at a young age.

I laid the groundwork last November, by asking Anya's teacher if she would be open to having me come in.  I wrote up an outline describing what I planned to do, and based it partly on an Adoptive Families magazine article.  I also linked to the article, so she could read a more expert opinion.  She read everything, and worked me into the classroom schedule.

She did have one very important suggestion for me:  there are two other children in Anya's class who are transracially adopted, and she wanted to check with their parents and see if they were comfortable with the idea.  We know one of the families, and knew they were very open with their child about adoption; I had already planned to e-mail that family if the teacher agreed to the talk.

But I am so glad she knew about the other family, and shared the information with them -- I would hate to have blindsided them, or had their child go home upset.  They were grateful, and wanted to tell their child in advance that adoption would be discussed at school.

Today was the big day!  I sat down in front of 25 eager faces, and started with the obvious: "I am Anya's mother, and she's my daughter, but we don't look like each other, do we?"  A sea of enthusiastically shaking heads and a chorus of voices told me that no, we don't look like each other at all!

That was my springboard -- that some families don't look like each other.  I talked about how families can have people who don't look like each other. Sometimes it's because the mom and dad don't have the same color skin, so their children don't look like one of the parents.  And sometimes, families have people who don't look like each other because the children are adopted.

Anya held up a photo of K, and we told the class we were waiting right now for another daughter -- one who also wouldn't look like me, but who would look like Anya.  Then I took the doll in my arms, and asked the children what we would need to take care of a little one.  I chose to bring in the doll to keep the focus off of Anya, and we also didn't share any of her personal details except for where she was born.  We used an older-looking, not-so-babyish doll, since K will be two when she comes home.

That's where my basket of props came in.  I held the doll and asked the children some things that babies or little kids need, and had children take turns choosing something from the basket.  One by one, they picked out objects that showed children need food, medicine, clothes, toys, books, and love.  When we had emptied the basket, I said that it was going to be our job to provide all those things for K, forever, because we were going to be her parents.  We left the objects out on a table where the kids could see them.

Then I said "There's one other thing we haven't talked about that every person needs, and that's to be born and brought into the world."  That, I explained was the job of the first parents.  Every adopted child has two sets of real parents -- the first parents bring her into the world and make sure she's born.  But then, sometimes, grown-ups have big problems that mean they cannot provide all the things a baby needs (and I pointed back to the objects from my basket). 

I stressed that the grown-up problems, like being too young to care for a child or having very bad medical problems, were never the baby's fault . . . and the other two adopted children each raised their hands and chimed in with parts of their own stories.  I wasn't expecting that, but it gave me an opportunity to say "Yes, that is a grown-up problem," and "They wanted to make sure someone would find you and take care of you," and affirm their contribution.

Then I briefly mentioned the helpers at adoption agencies who help the birthparents find families who can take care of their children, and that we were really looking forward to meeting our new daughter, being her family, and taking good care of her for the rest of her life.

Then the children got on a tangent about who had how many siblings, and at least one boy also claimed to have been adopted (I know him and his parents from preschool, and he's not!).  Hopefully that means he "caught" a positive picture of adoption today!  Another little girl told me, "I have light brown skin, and so does my whole family.  So we do look like each other."  It's always fascinating to hear what's going on in their minds.  :o)

I hope this experience will be a good building block for Anya and her classmates.  (And I'm fully aware that the only thing they may remember or report at home is "Anya's mom brought a doll to school!") It's pretty inevitable that someone at school will say hurtful things to her, or family tree/geneaology assignments could cause confusion or pain -- but I'm hoping that we have answered some questions before they needed to be asked, and reinforced my daughter's level of comfort in talking about adoption in general.


Miche said...

What was the link to the article? Do you still have that handy to share? I'm wondering, when we get closer to bringing our girl home, that I should come and do that at the boys' schools so their friends learn positive things about adoption before she gets here...did you go to your sons' classes and do that too? What do you think about doing that now? Or waiting? Probably waiting until we know she is coming for sure. Things to ponder :)

Peter and Nancy said...

Hi Miche --
They used to have a link to it on their web page, but if you go*gle "how I explained adoption to the first grade," it pops right up. I did things a little differently -- she wrote down a list of things babies need, for example -- because some kindergarteners aren't fluent readers yet.

I think it's a great idea to do that with your sons' classes! And you can teach them the terms to use for all of the questions they will get when you're not there. :o)

In our case, we sent in photos of K to our sons' classrooms and let them talk about her. Because we've adopted before, we didn't do that with our sons' classes this time around.

I also didn't do this at her preschool -- the kids were so oblivious to our skin color differences, and they weren't going on to the same schools, where there would be ongoing togetherness.

I'd probably wait until you're pretty close to traveling -- that way the lesson will be fresh.

Hope you'll let me know how it goes!

Karen said...

Fantastic. Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this! I love your idea of explaining it all to Anya's peers before she gets older and more self-conscious.
Great job, Mama -- I am sure gonna steal this one!

:) Karen

Fox family said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. We love your post and the way you explain the adoption to the children.

Friendlier from the Fox family

MiaMyIndianAngel said...

What a fabulous idea! Our family is adopting a little one from India - just signed our referral paperwork. I'm also a kindergarten teacher and I have yet to share with my students, mostly because of the unpredictable time frame of adoption. I love how you laid it all out for them.. you've given me some ideas for when the time comes. Thank you!

Julie & Patrick said...

Excellent! Great job explaining and helping to smooth any uncomfortable waters for Anya. How fun to join the classroom too. I'm sure you were great and it sounded like the kids were really engaged!


Jessica said...

What a fabulous idea! I love gleaning from are so wise!

Colista said...

I really, really like this idea. I have heard of doing this, but have never met anyone who has followed through with it. :) It sounds like you made an impact on the children! Now everyone is going to want to be adopted...kind of like how I always used to want glasses in elementary. ;)

No Greater Love said...

Wow. What a wonderful thing you did. Something Anya and all the children in her class will remember for a lifetime!!!