Classroom Projects and the Adopted Child

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These assignments can be Family Trees, “When I was a Baby” or Tracing Your Genealogy Projects. These projects are usually very exciting for the kids and bring a lot of conversation and creativity to the classroom. But for the almost 2 million children adopted in our country and over half a million children in foster care, this can be an especially painful assignment that causes a great deal of anxiety. Many adopted children do not have the pictures and information that these assignments are asking for, and more than not, it is asking them to share information that they do not want to share with their peers. Imagine a child adopted from an orphanage trying to diagram a Family Tree. Most children adopted Internationally do not have access to the names of their birth parents, birth siblings and birth grandparents. More than not, their birthdays have been guessed and often their names have been changed.

Even if the child makes the tree of his/her adoptive family, there will most likely be one child who will ask during the presentation if that is their “real” family. These questions are asked to adopted children everyday and can be very painful. Especially if the child comes from an interracial adoptive family where everyone can see that they are adopted. We never want to put a child in a situation where they would have to answer hard questions publicly.  Imagine a child in foster care trying to complete a “When I was a Baby” project when they do not have pictures of themselves as a baby, and have no idea when they first walked, talked, or said their first word. They are more likely to remember the abuse that ended them in foster care rather than their milestones. Not only are these situations hurtful to the child, it would be embarrassing to have to present these hard, sad facts of their beginnings to their peers. 

Usually these projects are assigned to give the children a creative way to explore their beginnings, learn to do research and present a project to the class. With this being the goal, there are many ways these assignments can be altered to keep from causing stress to the millions of children in our schools who are adopted or in foster care. 

“The Family Circle” is a great assignment that can replace the Family Tree. The child draws him or herself in the center of the circle. Then around the circle they draw the family members or caretakers that they consider family. Rather than putting birth and death dates, information about each individual includes their likes, dislikes, favorite sports, books, etc. 

The “When I was a Baby” project can be replaced with “My Favorite Year”. The student chooses his or her favorite year of their life, including pictures, facts about that year and why it is their favorite year. This allows the students to choose any information that they feel comfortable sharing and omit any sensitive information.

“Genealogy Projects” can be altered by allowing the students to choose a family that they want to research. It could be any family, except their own. That way it makes the students have to use their interviewing and research skills to see if the family has similar physical and behavioral traits without having to point out they are not genetically linked to their own family.

Educating adopted and foster children is an especially rewarding experience. And with a little bit of sensitivity and understanding of the feelings of pain and loss these children have experienced at an early age, a teacher can be a wonderful advocate for helping the child have great success in their education.

Elicia Zahm