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Parenting in the Homeschool – Homeschooling Adopted and Traumatized Kids
Last summer, as we struggled to raise our newest family members, I never would have guessed that I would have the time, let alone the inclination, to write an article about homeschooling adopted children in just ten months. However, because of the techniques we have learned from books like “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control”, and “The Connected Child”, seminars like the one we attended in February 2007 with Juli Alvarado, and the incredible support and prayers. from our family and friends: Our family has stabilized and our home has become a haven instead of a war zone.
Homeschooling my three children is one of the greatest joys and undeniable challenges I have ever faced. My children are 9, 7, and 6 and my biggest test is teaching not only their intellectual ages, but their emotional ages as well. I’m certainly no expert, I’ve only homeschooled for three years, but I hope to give some good suggestions on establishing routines while being flexible, teaching to a child’s developmental needs without sacrificing content academic and some curricular choices we have made in our family that seem to facilitate the kind of learning that many children with special needs thrive on.
Let’s start talking about routines. I find that adoptive parents who are dealing with extreme behavior often do one of two things. Either they set up such a structure in their children’s lives that their children are stifled and stressed, or they have no boundaries or expectations at all, choosing to excuse all behavior but never re-train their children in ways of appropriate expression. Neither path is helpful and when you get to school there is nowhere to hide, you are responsible for their education and you have to have a plan. I’ve found that routines with flexibility offer the best hope for a peaceful home. Let me tell you what it looks like.
In my house I have two boys who get up quite early and a girl (the youngest) who usually gets up late. Instead of dragging Rose out of bed before she’s ready, and fighting with her all morning because she hasn’t slept enough, I let her sleep and use the morning to have breakfast with the boys and focus on them. We often play a game together after breakfast before they get dressed. (I try to get up, get dressed, and have some quiet time before either of them gets up.) Then they get dressed and brush their teeth. If my middle son, Gabriel, is reluctant to get dressed, we set a timer and see if he can get over it. He loves any game and this always works. Usually by this time Rose is up and in need of some cuddling, so the boys play together while I tend to her and bring her breakfast. Once dressed, we begin our “three Rs” with mom bouncing back and forth between the three kids as they do their math workbooks first. Then Ezra, my oldest, does his writing, grammar and silent reading while I do phonics and reading with the two younger ones. If I need someone one-on-one with Rose or Gabriel, Ezra is assigned to read aloud to the child who isn’t with mom. The little ones love this and it fosters sibling closeness, which is nice since they’ve only been living in the same house for a year!
After an hour of this, the kids usually need some exercise and I send them off to jump on the trampoline or I let the kids wrestle indoors if it’s cold or rainy. During this time, I do some homework before reading them out loud again. First, we make picture books related to the unit we’re doing at the moment (I’ll talk about Konos later, the curriculum we use for all the other subjects) and then we make a chapter book. The little ones aren’t great at listening yet, so they are allowed to play quietly on the floor with cars or Polly Pockets while we read the book aimed at the older ones. After talking about what we just read, they can play freely until lunch. After lunch we do the unit studies with the three children together. The Konos curriculum includes all the sciences, history, music, art, drama, physical education, practical life skills, geography and the Bible for each child’s needs. This curriculum is hands-on and we do the projects together, exploring each subject in a variety of media. My kids love this part of the day and are learning things I never thought they could learn at such a young age because they are doing and discovering instead of memorizing facts for a test. We do science experiments, learn about famous people and act out moments from history. We take nature walks, do dissections and practice positive character traits using puppets or role plays.
The next part of our day is rest time. Most days that means quietly playing in bedrooms for an hour while mom regroups. Some days the kids really need a nap and they stay in their beds with books hoping they fall asleep. Directly after break time is snack time and every other day we have 30 minutes of computer time for each child. (This is a fun time where the kids pick a game to play.) Other days I try to do an easy craft that the kids can do mostly on their own while I clean up and start dinner. One thing we have learned is that television is a disaster for our children. Because of this, we have removed it entirely accepted for the occasional movie. Craft time has replaced afternoon TV time.
By this time, Dad is almost home and often takes over after a short chat with Mom. He takes the kids for bike rides, plays with them, reads stories or has them help him with chores while dinner is on the table. After dinner everyone gets ready for bed and we listen to CD books, read aloud as a family or play a family bedtime game for the little ones. Rose and Gabriel are in bed most nights no later than 8pm and sometimes earlier. Ezra stays up an hour after them to spend time with us alone.
Generally speaking, my kids know what to expect from our days and that makes a big difference in their attitudes and behavior. What I have just described would be considered a very good day; I often have to change things because someone needs something a little different. There are some basic concepts that make up the skeleton of our days that don’t change much. Morning routines, mealtimes, reading aloud, rest time, and bedtime routines are essential to a successful day. Other parts can be extended; shortened, changed or removed altogether if necessary according to what is going on in our house at the moment. Our day is not regulated; it has only one flow.
Since we’re on the school year, I don’t worry if we have to curl up on the couch for most of the day a few times a month. Getting my kids in the right frame of mind for learning means I know when to move forward and I know when to pack up the hard stuff for the day and call it quits. My main goal right now is to teach them to trust me, teach them character, and constantly work on reading. Other things will fall into place as their brain heals from the trauma they have experienced.
Parents with adopted children typically have an extra layer of issues to deal with on a daily basis that makes homeschooling especially challenging. Adopted children need so much from us that homeschooling seems to alleviate the problems that are often exacerbated by the public school system that often fails to understand the adopted child as someone who needs an extra dose of understanding. The last thing we want in our human selfishness is to have to deal with all these problems ourselves without “getting out”! I assure you though; the rewards far outweigh the pains.
Gabriel was attending a fabulous public school (while still a foster child) with wonderful teachers, an amazing social worker, and a staff that went out of their way to help our family. Despite all of this, we had behavior problems at home because of the stress school brought into the equation. After six months of teaching him at home, these problems are gone. We have slowly weaned him off the meds he has been on since he was three and are still seeing progress that we never saw until the stress of public school was removed. Not everyone has the option to homeschool, but we have found it to be the best way to build relationships in our family that will help heal our traumatized children.
Update: My kids are older now (12, 9 and 8), but this article is still relevant. I wanted to repost it in hopes that it might encourage others.
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