Adoption and Homeschooling

I am writing from China where we are in the middle of adopting our tenth child, a little girl who is nine years old. We have adopted twice before, a nearly four year old boy and a two year old boy, but this is the first time that we have ever adopted a child this old. She speaks a handful of words of English and we speak less of Mandarin. We are managing day-to-day functioning well enough and can ask our guides to translate anything more complicated than that. The language piece always seems a big hurdle at first, but I am always amazed at how quickly children pick up a new language.

Our experience is that functional language comes very quickly, but more academic and conceptual language takes years to catch up. It is one of the many reasons that I think adoption and homeschooling make such a perfect pair. Having my adopted children home with me while they first acclimate to a new family, language, and culture has been beneficial for us all, but it has also been beneficial for my children who have been home for quite a while.

The most obvious benefit is time. Especially with our newest daughter, we have missed so much of our children’s early lives that I am loath to lose any more. I might have missed the first step, the first word, the first smile, but I’m not going to miss other firsts because they will be learning and experiencing these things with me. We have time to develop relations with our new daughter and sister. We can make up for the time we have already lost together.

By keeping our adopted children home we also don’t have to rush. We can allow my new nine year old daughter the time she needs to acclimate and not force her right into being a third grader. We can allow our five year old son to be the three-year-old he really is due to his continuing orphanage delays. If we were to send him to school, he would be considered extremely developmentally delayed and placed in special education, but we have found if we adjust his age and subtract the two years he was in the orphanage, he is developmentally on target. We can make his education fit him and not make him fit the
education.

But perhaps the greatest value is the emotional healing that homeschooling my adopted children allows. Our first adopted son had a very difficult transition and it took a very long time for us to attach to each other. On top of that he still suffers the effects of past trauma and does not always behave in a manner which is easy to manage. If we had sent him to school for hours each day, I believe that it would have made the attachment and healing process even more difficult and slow. Learning to love each other and live together can only happen when you are actually together.

All children are quirky and have ways that they each learn best, but because of our adopted children’s less than ideal past histories, I think it makes them a bit quirkier as far as learning goes. Some of it is just a factor of having switched languages. For instance, there have been several occasions where a son who I thought was really very fluent in English will exhibit a basic misunderstanding that I wasn’t aware of.
Can I tell you how shocked I was when I learned he had trouble telling the difference between telling sentences and asking sentences? It did go a long way toward explaining some misunderstandings we have had in the past. A teacher might have corrected his misunderstanding but not thought it important enough to share. Whereas, I saw it as an answer to some past conflict and it turned out to be quite a healing thing to learn.

In another week or so, we will be back home and reunited with the rest of our family. We may not do school for a little while. Those of us who traveled will be jet lagged, our new daughter will be overwhelmed with all the newness thrust upon her, and our children at home will want to spend time having Mommy and Daddy back. It will take a while to reach a new equilibrium. At that point, we’ll get the books out again and formal school will resume. In the meantime, there will still be quite a bit of learning going on. Our daughter will be learning a new language (and my plan is that she will also continue to make use of her current language); we will probably all add to our Mandarin vocabularies as our daughter enjoys teaching new words to us; we will read books and play games, and more than likely go on some field trips to show our new daughter some of the things in her new hometown.

And because we homeschool we have the freedom to do these things. We can take the time to do what’s best for our family and enjoy being all together once again.

Elizabeth Curry is on year 14 of homeschooling her 9 children (with #10 arriving via China at some point next year).  Devoted bookworms all, it’s not surprising that much of the learning that happens centers around whatever chapter book is being read.  When she isn’t taking care of children or reading, she enjoys sewing, cooking, and writing.  Her life of following Jesus with many children in the Big, Ugly House is chronicled at www.ordinary-time.blogspot.com .

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20 comments

  1. My heart breaks for this little girl. How very, very sad that she is not being allowed – at this age – to remain in foster care in her homeland than have to relearn EVERYTHING!

    I think about the film “Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy” and my heart breaks for these children.

    I wonder what you and your family will do to learn Mandarin?

    I know you think you are doing a wonderful thing, but I cannot help wondering if we need to rethink IA – even as a last resort – for some of these children if it means taking children at this age from everything they’ve ever known to such a foreign culture. It just seems unnecessarily cruel and more harmful to the child than any “benefits” or “advantages” being adopted or raised in the Us will bring her.

    How I wish you would read (or HAD read) jane Jeong Trenka’s books to learn what the experience is like through the eyes of the one is taken for adoption from their homeland.

    I am reminded in all of this of the old story of the boy scout who is out to do his good deeds and earn his badge. He sees an old lady at the corner and puts his arm under hers and very slowly and patiently assists her across the street. When they arrive at the other side, the elderly woman turns to the boy and says, “Thank you, son. But can you take me back now? I wanted to be on that other side of the street, not here.”

    The best intentions…and if only SHE could talk to you and if only you could hear and understand what SHE really would wants…

    Meeting her schooling needs at home or at school does not provide for her emotional needs as a child who is grieving tremendous loss and separation. I hope these needs will e met but wonder how that would be accomplished unless you could miraculously find a Mandarin speaking therapist.

    I find it all just sad and heartbreaking….this poor, poor child to have endure this and not to have been left to grow where she was rooted…but plucked and transplanted with the HOPE that the graft takes and is able to flourish despite such a horrific trauma.

    Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

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    April Hedman Reply:

    But what if she were never adopted in her homeland? Is it better, then, in your opinion, that she should remain in that case, without having the opportunity to be a part of a family unit, a family that no doubt will love her and care for her emotional needs better than an orphanage could – no matter how caring and wonderful and well-resourced the orphanage was?

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    Mirah Riben Reply:

    Yes. I have already stated that I believe, at her age, she would be better off wit a foster family or even in an orphanage and maintain her cultural and language ties…AND, more importantly, connections to extended family she very likely has.

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    Kasey Jones Reply:

    Sadly this child and many children that you think you know what is best for DON’T have the luxury of extended family or even a country that looks at them with anything but disgust. They don’t get the medical they need, the love, the family. Maybe 6 months of confusion and uncomfortableness is worth it to them. But then you haven’t ever asked an older adopted child this, have you? Or did you just keeping digging and finally find one that isn’t happy so you could use that child as your “example”?
    Until you have actually walked in an older adoption family’s shoes, don’t pretend to know what anyone in the situation is feeling. I’ve read your book. It’s a joke. I can’t believe you are still on the internet spouting your views but I guess you’ll do anything to sell a book. You go on assumptions, talk strictly about “babies” and do minimal “research” that only suits your “cause”. Walk a mile and then let’s talk. Until then, Mirah, shut up. Those of us who are actually loving these children and thanking God daily for allowing us to parent them (and these children that thank God daily for their family) don’t want to hear your trash. The children that have had heart surgeries and are alive today because of their families, don’t want to hear it.

  2. In a perfect world where everyone works together to offer each and every person access to adequate food, medical care, shelter, love, water, and education, children SHOULD stay with their families of origin in their home country.

    We do not live in this world, though, and suffering children deserve a permanent home. We cannot sacrifice this generation of children to the hope that this perfect world will arrive within their lifetime.

    It is indeed difficult to leave one’s culture, language, and home to join a family through adoption. It is also difficult for an entire family to emigrate from their country and culture in search of a more healthy life. People do it, though, because the benefits outweigh the hardships. So it is with most cases of IA.

    Birth parents make the very painful, difficult choice to Place their children for adoption because they want what is best for the child and know massive global change offering sudden prosperity is not likely to happen in time for their children. I am afraid your comment is a cruel one to birth parents more than to adopting families.

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  3. Lake Mom -

    One giant step in the direction of that ideal world would be if people, instead of spending an average of $40,000 per adoption to take one child…spent that same amount to build schools, buy medical supplies, dig wells and help an entire community or village instead of just one child, often leaving their siblings and other family behind. It is a totally unsustainable plant to take children one by one.

    As for insulting mothers who loving sacrifice for their children, I would NEVER do so as I am AM such a mother! But you are making a huge assumption that this child being adopted from China, or any other child being adopted was given freely and not stolen or kidnapped as has been documented in China and Guatemala and india and all over the world!

    When not kidnapped or stolen, other children are coerced from mothers who are lied to about their children going to the US for education.

    I am not being cruel to anyone, least of all the children whose needs come above those of all adults. I am being honest and truthful and knowing the pain of losing a child to adoption work to prevent unnecessary losses and familial separations and seek only what is the best interest of children. I thus follow the UN, UNICEF and a multitude of other children’s charities who believe that adoption – and most especially IA – should be a last resort. Those who disagree with the UN are those who benefit either financially or by obtaining sought-after children. As they say,”follow the money” to know who is speaking truly on behalf of the best interests of the children in need and who is pretending to.

    “Over the past 30 years, the number of families from wealthy countries wanting to adopt children from other countries has grown substantially. At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather than the best interests of children, takes centre stage. Abuses include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and bribery.” UNICEF

    “…overseas adoption is a kind of child abuse by the state. ….Overseas adoption is the forced expulsion of children from the society where they are supposed to live. In this sense, overseas adoption is a social violence against children. As humans, we exist as part of a gigantic ecosystem. The existence of the biological parents of adoptees can never be annihilated nor denied.
    “Overseas adoption is a forced separation of children from their natural ecosystems, as well as a way of forcing them into compulsory unity with settings different from and unnatural to their genetic and original social systems. Through this forced separation and compulsory unity, not only the adoptees, but also their biological parents, adoptive parents and their family members suffer trauma.” Pastor Kim Do-hyun, director of KoRoot

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  4. KoRoot is a Korean org that supports adoptees.

    A large number of Korean adoptees – the first to be “exported” – have come of age and are very verbal and articulate in their expression of what it is like to have bene taken for adoption. Their voices need to be heard by anyone concerned about the welfare of the world’s children. Sometimes the best made plans are not always the best in hindsight. Listen to what they have to say! Read the blogs and books of adult Korean adoptees like Trenka.

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  5. It is obvious these comments are coming from very different perspectives and life experiences. I decided that I wanted an opinion from someone who has direct experience, my 14 year old son who was adopted from China 11 months ago. I read the article and then the comment from Mirah Riben to my son. My son’s unsolicited response after reading Mirah’s comment was an emphatic, “she is wrong”. My son has cerebral palsy, uses a walker, and spent some very unpleasant years living in an orphanage before he was adopted. He very much wanted a Mom and Dad but unfortunately no family in China was willing to adopt him. After spending two weeks in China with my son trying to help him get around in a country that is completely handicap inaccessible, I can completely understand why a Chinese family would hesitate to adopt a child with mobility related special needs. Children with special needs are rarely adopted in China because of the cultural belief that they are unlucky, the cost of medical care, and the lack of services available for children with special needs.

    My son was denied an education because of his special needs even though he is intelligent and his special needs are purely physical. He was subjected to inhumane treatment at times and was made fun of by strangers. My hope is that the cultural views about people with special needs will change in China over time and people with special needs will be provided with equal opportunities. Until that time, international adoption provides the most hope for children who have special needs in China.

    My son told me to share in this comment that his hope is that all the children who lived at his orphanage can be adopted some day. This wish is one step closer to coming true since the “poor, poor child” that Mirah is commenting about is actually a child from my son’s orphanage and someone who my son knew.

    My son is also homeschooled and I can attest to how helpful it has been for him to be able to work at his own level since he had so little education in China. He is basically fully fluent in English after being home for only 11 months. He has been so open about sharing his sadness over hard things he experienced while living in China. Memories that need to be shared can pop up at inopportune times if a child is off to public school or waiting for a weekly therapy session. Another advantage to homeschooling is that when my son is feeling sad about something, we can stop what we are doing and I can take the time to time to talk to him alone about what might be bothering him. We are not on a strict schedule and there is always time to address important feelings. Transitioning to a new family, language, and culture is very hard but I believe that growing up never knowing the love of a family and never having any opportunities in life is tragic. My son told me it wasn’t easy coming to America but he would do it again because he is very happy to have a family.

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    Mirah Riben Reply:

    In your son’s case, and for others with special needs, it may indeed have been the best thing. I certainly do not think it is best for every child. I am impressed that within just 11 months his knowledge of English is good enough for him to comprehend all of this! He is very fortunate to have someone who takes the time to listen to him when he is sad or having bad memories. While each child’s situation needs to be examined and weighed individually, it does not change my overall view or opinion that IA should be a last resort, and was NOT necessary for the 9-year-old girl about whom the post was written.

    As for Chinese orphanage conditions, it is my understanding that as in other countries, those conditions cna vary quite drastically depending upon the Province, and the ones not up to par could be brought up to higher standards with donations – which I know many who adopt do send – and volunteers. etc. There is no on-size fits all answer.

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    Shonya Reply:

    Mirah, I don’t think you know of which you speak as you seem to be completely unaware of the special needs of the 9-year-old-girl about whom the post was written. As you’ve said, “each child’s situation needs to be examined and weighed individually”. Be careful when speaking about a situation you have neither weighed nor examined.

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    Mirah Riben Reply:

    You are right. I am not psychic and only know what was contained in the post I commented on which did not mention special needs, thus my comments were re adopting “a nine-year-old” from China. I also said that for some children with special needs adoption may be one solution.

    Other statements made abut IA in general however still stand.

    Amy Reply:

    Mirah,

    I kindly ask that you go to the family blog of the author of the article you are condemning (the link to her blog is in the article) and learn for yourself what this nine year old little girl’s special need is. I can understand your concern but you really don’t know any of the story or what life in China was like for this child. My son knows since he lived with this little girl and he knows how she was treated in China because of her special needs. If this child had remained in China, she never would have gotten the medical help she so desperately needs. Since I have traveled around China with two children who have very visible special needs and seen first hand people’s reactions to my children, I have a very good idea about what kind of a future this little girl would have had in China and it would not have been a good one.

    I would say that a majority of adoptive parents, especially parents who adopt children with special needs, support improving conditions in orphanages in China and put their money into that as well. There is nothing like adopting a child with special needs internationally and seeing first hand what their lives were like prior to being your child. This first hand experience can light a fire in a person to devote their lives to improving conditions for orphan children all over the world. We support an amazing organization, Love Without Boundaries, that is run voluntarily by adoptive parents who are working so hard to improve the lives of children who are still living in their birth country. My three children with special needs, all adopted at older ages from China, all benefited from the work of this organization while they lived in China.

    Your suggestion of sending money to improve orphanages is not a bad one but it does not address the biggest issue. The problem is that orphanages do not provide what children need the most, the love of a family. I have seen what living in orphanages has done to two of my children and it is not pretty. Also, we are currently dealing with a situation in one of my children’s prior orphanages where donated money is being pocketed by those in charge. The director of the orphanage has set up a school sponsorship program within the orphanage and naive Americans have been sending money to help. My child was supposedly one of the sponsored children but we have found out that there is actually no school program but just a monthly photo op session to make it look like there is a school at the orphanage. Greed can make people in a country use innocent children to raise donations for their own financial gain. You are right that there is no one size fits all answer. I would say it is best not to pass judgement unless one makes oneself fully aware of all sides of a situation. You seem to have a desire to put an end to all international adoptions, not matter the circumstances. I would suggest you might want to visit some orphanages and get to know some older children who grew up in orphanages before you make it your mission to put a stop to international adoption.

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    Mirah Riben Reply:

    I “condemned’ no one. I stated my opinions of IA in general and especially for an older child having to learn everything and being taken from EVERYTHING she has every known. I praised you and those who are adopting special needs children. So please don’t re-write my comments or put words in my mouth. Additionally, I provided other sources and quotes from other organizations who’s positions I respect and share. That you do not share their efforts to do what is in these children’s best interest is your right, and I respect your right to your personal opinion.

    Do none of the children in Chinese orphanages have family who visit as do children in orphanages all over the world?

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  6. Your statement which I have copied next would have felt very condemning to me if I was this girl’s mother, which is why I said what I did. “While each child’s situation needs to be examined and weighed individually, it does not change my overall view or opinion that IA should be a last resort, and was NOT necessary for the 9-year-old girl about whom the post was written.”

    Children in orphanages in China do not have birth family members visiting or any contact with birth family. The reason is that it is illegal to bring a child to an orphanage if a family can not care for the child. The child must be left somewhere to be found by strangers and then the authorities are usually called to bring the child to an orphanage. If a birth family came to visit a child in an orphanage, they would be legally and financially responsible for the child and would probably be legally prosecuted for abandoning the child. There is a culture of secrecy and shame when it comes to child abandonment and I certainly hope that someday this will change so that adopted children or children who grow up in orphanages in China can have a chance of being connected with birth family in China. An orphaned child in China has no family and no support system to turn to when they age out of the orphanage system. They are considered unlucky and are often denied education and jobs because of their unlucky orphan label. Until very recently, orphans in China almost always received a surname that is more of a place name then a real surname. All the children in the orphanage receive these uncommon surnames which labels the child in society as an orphan for life. My children all have these orphanage surnames, so if they grew up in a Chinese orphanage and aged out, they would always be considered doubly unlucky with their visible special needs and their orphanage surname. Luck plays a real part in Chinese beliefs and culture so a company that employs such an unlucky person would be bringing that bad luck into their company. Few are willing to do this.

    I totally get your concern about international adoption. I do not encourage people who only want to adopt a healthy baby girl to adopt internationally. There is a huge demand for healthy baby girls and it has led to much corruption and unethical practices in so many international adoption programs. If people really want to make a positive difference in the world, they should be open to adopting a child with special needs. Children with special needs are not being sold or trafficked because they are considered to have no value. My children are priceless to me and that is why I advocate for children with special needs to be adopted internationally and why I am spending my time responding here.

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  7. I think it is important to remember that when a writer/contributor shares part of their life and their decisions, they are doing just that….they are sharing a part of their life.

    It is easy to THINK we know exactly where someone is coming from or upon what they have based their decisions. As is often the case, if their decision is different than something we might have done, it is also easy to judge. The fact of the matter is, we are often too quick to judge someone’s actions before having all of the details.

    God leads each family and each individual to various decisions based on what He has for them. I applaud and admire those whom God leads to be “fathers to the fatherless” and encourage them to remain true to their calling.

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  8. I think you are doing an amazing thing, dont let anyone tell you different. I will be going through the adoption process this June (older child in MI foster care) Well written post and I wish you and your family the best =)

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  9. Aloha!

    We are about to do the same thing, except we are adopting 2 sisters (8 and 11 years old) from the Philippines! God must have guided me to your blog! I anxiously await your posts on dealing with homeschooling your new child! The language is one of the things that perplexes me the most! I don’t know where or how to start them. I know they are very delayed in their schooling, but haven’t a clue on how to evaluate their proper grade placement!

    I am homeschooling another filipina that we adopted 2 years ago at 3 1/2 years old and that transition was relatively easy.

    With much Aloha from Hawaii.
    Gaye

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  10. One more addition, after looking at some of the posts I feel compelled to say that these girls spent 3 weeks with us this Summer and are excited about joining our family! (Not that this is a prerequisite for adopting older children.) I believe 100% in God’s definition of true religion. We can’t wait to add them to our family and share all the love we have with them! My other children ask daily, “How much longer!” asking about when they will finally arrive. They will bless us and us them!

    [Reply]

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Hi Gaye,

    Congratulations on your new daughters! I hope the rest of the process goes smoothly for you.

    My experience with language is that they pick up functional English fairly quickly, but academic language takes a long time. Be patient to being language based learning! Some tips, culled from my own experience and that of close friends who have also adopted older children.

    ** Math manipulatives are great and help to bridge the language gap
    ** Reading lots of stories… picture books, poems, concept books, even longer chapter books… helps to immerse them in language. It was helpful to have toddlers around who still had board books, because these were right at the correct level for our daughter, but by reading them to our little girls while she listened in made it seem less like we were reading baby books to her.
    ** Allow for lots of tactile learning experiences, especially if they did not have the opportunity for this type of exploration in their birth country. These activities are key to developing good literacy and learning skills later on.
    ** You will want/need a break from each other during the day. We would put on the Leap Frog letter factory DVD’s for our daughter. She loved them and happily watched them every day. It gave her a break from having to work on functioning, plus she learned all of her letter sounds over the course of the summer.
    ** I would also invest in a Phonics Firefly. Normally I don’t buy toys which make noise, but I make an exception for this one. Our daughter would voluntarily work with it for an hour or two each day and it added to her literacy preparation. (She was not literate in her birth language.)
    ** Be patient. Remember that it is a lot of new stuff to learn and things that seem as though they should be easy to remember are not. The brain is on overload for much of the time.
    ** See if you can find a translator to help bridge the languages. There is a time where many children, if they are not using their birth language, loose it and it is often before they are really competent in their new language. One essay I read by a girl adopted at an older age described the process as feeling as though she was losing her mind. Keeping their first language as much as possible can help avoid this.

    I hope everything goes well for all of you.

    Blessings,
    Elizabeth

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