Home Schooling and Us
We were already home schooling when we adopted our daughter. We fell into it with our first child. We had friends who didn't send their kids to school so we knew about the option and had seen it work. Our son was also an extremely active little boy who we could see having difficulty in a traditional schooling environment. We gave home education a trial for six months and have continued home educating ever since. We follow a pretty relaxed approach, basic math, reading and Chinese and take advantage of other opportunities that arise. We record TV programs for the kids, they participate in sporting activities 'after school' classes like Drama, drawing lessons with Nanna, etc. Lots of reading and visits to the library fill our days. There never seems to be enough time to do everything that we want and I often wonder how on earth I would ever get anything done if the kids were in school.
Advantages for our Family
Our son was seven and a half when we adopted our daughter, age 3 years and 3 months. That he didn't go to school made it easy for him to come with us to China to adopt his sister. We spent three weeks travelling around before we adopted our daughter and the travel was a learning experience for all of us! After we returned home our priority was our daughter, she needed lots of intensive attachment parenting and intensive care and we let everything else drop in order to give this to her. We figured that for our son five weeks in China was the equivalent of 6 months to a year in school in terms of the amount of learning that happened and so we weren't stressed about doing anything formal in terms of learning. That he was around a lot was a great thing for the two kids. They really got to know one another well and spent a lot of time playing. Our daughter learned a huge amount from her brother including language, how to play with Lego and so on. But probably the most important thing she learned was how children interact with their parents. There was lots of watching going on!
If our daughter had started school, she would have done so a bit over a year ago. I guess that school presents extra challenges for many adopted children, at least those who have a history of neglect or abuse or changes in primary caregiver beyond infancy. I know that this would have been the case for our daughter and I'm really glad that that was something that we didn't have to stress about.
Home Schooling and the Post-Institutionalized Child
There are a number of ways in which I think that school would have been difficult for or detrimental to our daughter. Our daughter doesn't cope with competition very well. If she feels deficient in any ways she'll fall apart. For a long time our daughter also stressed out if she was expected to do anything in the presence of other children (performance anxiety). At home neither of these things are an issue, we can just go at our own pace and there is no need for her to perform at a particular level. I also feel that she still benefits from lots of contact with me and our current level of contact would not be possible if she were at school. In addition, not being at school removes to a large degree the peer pressure to act a certain way. I think that this is significant because having been home just three and a half years a lot of our daughter's needs are closer in some areas to what an average three year old needs than to what you would expect from an almost seven year old.
Our daughter is always looking around for the "right" way to do things. This is a survival mechanism, I think, but when her needs conflict with the expected norm this can be problematic. Such conflicts are easier to manage outside of school.
It has taken our daughter a long time to overcome the trauma of placement and to developmentally catch up. Until recently, she really did not have the head room for learning things like math or reading. This would have been a real problem if she had started school and been expected to learn at the same pace as other kids. However, since she was not at school this was not an issue and she's just started learning how to read. She will be able to grow as a confident learner at her own pace and with no stigma attached to learning at a different rate to other children.
Finally, because we can essentially do what we want as far as our children's education goes we have the freedom to choose to spend time on things that are important to us, like learning Chinese which has become a family activity rather than something that just the kids do.
I anticipate that neither of the kids will ever go to traditional school. I really value the ability we have as home educators to just go with the flow and move at the rate and in the way that best fits our children. I'll end with a summary of what I believe are the pros and cons of home schooling for adopted children:
The Potential Advantages:
- Opportunity for parents to spend lots of time with their child
- Opportunity to focus on learning things that are of most value to a particular child/family.
- Opportunity to value different aspects of learning.
- Opportunity to tailor learning to the child’s needs
- Reduction in pressure (or the ability to have greater control over pressure) to be performing at age level in all sorts of areas.
- If in a non-racially diverse area it may be easier to facilitate racially diverse relationships/role models
The Potential Disadvantages:
- If in an area with racially diverse schools it may be easier to facilitate racially diverse friendships/role models therein
- The primary caregiver can get very tired!
- It can be difficult to arrange work around schooling
- In some instances special services that are available in schools may not be available to home educators
Home schooling can be a very compelling way to educate our post-institutionalized children, giving them much needed time to bond with us. Parents still need to remain advocates for their children in acquiring the specialist services that some of our adopted children need. These services are often more easily accessed within the formal school setting, and parents should check out local education departments for policy on providing home educated children with such services.