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
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 .