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Parenting in the Homeschool – Homeschooling Adopted and Traumatized Kids
Last summer, as we struggled to parent our newest family members, I never would have guessed that I would have the time, much less the inclination, to write an article on homeschooling adopted children in just ten short months. However, because of the techniques we learned from books like Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control and The Connected Child, seminars like the one we attended in February 2007 with Yuli Alvarado, and the amazing support and prayers of our family and friends – our family stabilized and our home became a sanctuary 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 experiment lies in teaching not only their intellectual ages, but their emotional ages as well. I’m certainly no expert, having homeschooled for only three years, but I hope to give some good suggestions about establishing a routine while maintaining flexibility, teaching the child’s developmental needs without sacrificing academic content, and some curriculum choices we’ve made in our family that seem to It facilitates the type of learning that many children with special needs thrive on.
Let’s start talking about routine. I find that adoptive parents dealing with extreme behaviors often do one of two things. Or they have set up such a structure in their children’s lives that their children are suffocated and stressed, or have no boundaries or expectations at all, choose to excuse any behavior but never retrain their children in appropriate ways of expressing themselves. Neither route is helpful and when you are a homeschooler there is nowhere to hide – you are responsible for their education and you need to have a plan. I’ve found that routines with flexibility offer the greatest hope for a peaceful home. Let me explain what it looks like.
In my house there are 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 her all morning because she’s not getting enough sleep, I let her sleep and use the morning to eat breakfast with the boys and focus on them. Often, we’ll play a game together after breakfast before they even get dressed. (I try to get up, get dressed, and enjoy some quiet time before any of them get up.) Then they get dressed and brush their teeth. If my middle child, Gabriel, is reluctant to get dressed we set a timer and see if he can beat it. He loves every game and it always works. Usually by this time Rose is up and needs a cuddle so the boys play together while I take care of her and get her breakfast. Once she is dressed we start 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 handwriting, grammar and silent reading while I do sounds and reading with the younger two. If I need someone one on one with Rose or Gabrielle, Ezra gets the call out loud to the kid who isn’t with mom. The younger kids love it and it encourages sibling bonding which is nice, since they’ve only lived in the same house for a year!
After an hour of this, the kids usually need some exercise and are sent off to jump on the trampoline or I let the boys wrestle indoors if it’s cold or rainy. During this time I do a few chores before bringing them back for read aloud time. First, we make picture books related to the unit we are currently doing (I will talk more about cones later, the curriculum we use in all other subjects) and then we make a chapter book. The younger kids aren’t great at listening yet so they are allowed to play quietly on the floor with cars or pocket ponies while we read the adult book. After we talk about what we just read, they are free to play until lunch. After lunch we do our unit studies with the three children together. Conus’ curriculum includes all the science, history, music, art, drama, physical fitness, practical life skills, geography and Bible for every child’s needs. This curriculum is hands-on and we do the projects together, exploring each topic in a variety of mediums. My kids love this part of the day and learn things I never thought they could learn at such a young age because they do and discover instead of just memorizing facts for a test. We do science experiments, learn about famous people and act out moments in history. We go on nature walks do surgeries, and practice positive character traits through puppets or role play.
The next part of our day is rest time. Most days that means playing quietly in the rooms for an hour while mom rearranges herself. Some days the kids really need a nap and stay on their beds with books hoping they will fall asleep. Right after recess 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 choose a game to play.) The other days I try to do an easy craft that the kids can do mostly by themselves while I clean up and start dinner. One thing we have learned is that television spells disaster for our children. Because of this, we have eliminated it completely acceptable for the occasional movie. Craft time replaced TV time in the afternoon.
At this point, Dad is almost home and often takes over after a short talk with Mom. He takes the kids for bike rides, plays games with them, reads stories, or makes them help him with chores while I have dinner on the table. After dinner everyone gets ready for bed and we listen to books on CD, read aloud as a family, or play a bedtime family game for the little ones. Rose and Gabriel are most nights in bed no later than 8:00 PM and sometimes earlier. Ezra agrees to stay up for an hour after them to have time alone with us.
In general, my kids know what to expect from our days and it makes a huge difference in their attitudes and behavior. What I just described would count as a really good day – I often have to change things because someone needs something a little different. There are some elements that make up today’s skeleton that don’t change much. Morning routines, meal times, reading aloud, rest time and sleep routines are all essential to a successful day. Other parts can be extended; Shortened, changed or canceled altogether if necessary according to what is happening in our house at the moment. Our day is not continuous; It just has a flow.
Because we are in school year round, I don’t stress if we have to curl up on the couch for most of the day a few times a month. Having my kids in the right frame of mind for learning means I know when to move on 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 consistently work on reading. The other things will fall into place as their brain heals from the trauma they experienced.
Usually, parents with adopted children 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 problems often exacerbated by the public education system, which often fails to understand the adopted child as needing an extra dose of understanding. The last thing we want in our human selfishness is to have to deal with all these issues ourselves without a “break”! I promise you though; The rewards far outweigh the heartache.
Gabriel attended an amazing public school (while still a foster child) with a wonderful teacher, an amazing nanny and a staff that bent over backwards to help our family. Despite all of this, we experienced behavioral problems at home because of the pressure school that was brought into the equation. After six months of homeschooling, these problems have all but disappeared. We’ve slowly weaned him off the medication he’s been taking since he was three and we’re still seeing progress that we never saw until the public school pressure was removed. Not everyone has the option of homeschooling, but we have found it to be the best way to build the relationships in our family that will help our traumatized children heal.
Update: My kids are older now (12, 9 and 8) but this article is still relevant. I wanted to resubmit it in hopes that it would encourage others.
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