ERIC Identifier: ED426819
Publication Date: 1999-02-00
Author: Stroud, Judith E. - Stroud, James C. - Staley, Lynn M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Champaign IL.
Adopted Children in the Early Childhood Classroom. ERIC Digest.
Adoption in the United States is on the rise--national estimates indicate
that 1 million children live with adoptive parents (Stolley, 1993). As the
number of adopted children in classrooms continues to rise each year, early
childhood programs must begin to educate teachers about adoption issues.
Adoption awareness will help teachers support young children who are trying to
understand, and adjust to, their adoptive status.
Celebrating individuality, fostering self-esteem, and developing
self-confidence in the world beyond the family are socioemotional goals that
receive top priority in high-quality early childhood programs. Multicultural
materials are provided in many classrooms, and activities are planned to
heighten children's awareness and sensitivity to all families (Derman-Sparks,
1989). Amidst the attention given to recognizing the value and uniqueness of
each family represented in an early childhood class, teachers will want to
consider the special needs of children who have been adopted. Careful curriculum
planning combined with adoption awareness, genuine concern, and sensitivity will
insure a positive early education experience for these children. This Digest
provides suggestions for teachers who may have children in their classroom who
SELECT CURRICULUM ACTIVITIES AND MATERIALS THAT REPRESENT DIVERSE FAMILIES
Teachers can help young children develop an
awareness of and appreciation for the many kinds of family structures in today's
society. Because adoptive families are becoming more prevalent, it would be
appropriate to represent them in class discussions and activities. Specifically
in cases of transracial and international adoptions, teachers can strive to
provide curriculum materials and experiences that "celebrate diversity,
complexity, and the interrelatedness of cultures" (Wardle, 1990, p. 46) by
including images of families whose members do not necessarily share similar
physical or other characteristics.
The overall emphasis can be placed on the "belongingness" definition of a
family, rather than on the circumstances surrounding a particular child's birth.
Children might enjoy compiling photographs to make books about their individual
families, or they may be interested in cutting pictures from magazines to make a
family collage or bulletin board. Either activity could be used as an
introduction or summary for thematic experiences planned to help children
understand the many kinds of families and ways families are formed.
Teachers can be sensitive to adopted children's feelings in the selection and
planning of family-themed activities. "Family related assignments stimulate
thought about who we are and where we come from, bring our feelings about our
families to the surface, help us to look at our families from a different
perspective, and make our families more visible to others" (Edwards & Sodhi,
1992, p. 13). For children who have been adopted, this reflection may result in
confusion, raise questions that cannot be answered, and underline differences
between these children and their peers. For example, a teacher's request for
newborn photographs needed as part of a bulletin board display would be
inappropriate, and perhaps disheartening, for a child who was adopted at the age
of 2 years.
RECONSIDER "ADOPT-A" PROJECTS
The phrase "adopt-a" is
frequently used to preface the name given to specific projects within
classrooms, schools, or communities. It is difficult for adoptive parents to
explain adoption to their child when his class is involved in an adopt-a-whale
or an adopt-a-road program. The obvious reason for the phrase being problematic
is the manner in which it devalues the concept of adoption and adoptive
parenthood; in the above examples, adoption is considered a temporary commitment
dependent upon annual monetary renewal or trash removal. "Adopt-a" programs may
result in "adopt-a-confusion" (Johnson, n.d.). Because young children are not
abstract thinkers, they may struggle with the task of sorting out the
differences between adoption of people and adoption of animals or other objects.
Teachers do not need to eliminate these types of commercial projects or
sponsorships, but they might want to consider a more appropriate name.
LISTEN CAREFULLY TO CHILDREN'S QUESTIONS
questions can help teachers gain an accurate understanding of what the child
wants to know. If a child's question deals with the concept of origin, the
teacher should not assume that the child is asking about adoption; the child who
asks "Where did I come from?" may simply be looking for an answer to give his
friend who has said "I was born in Chicago." In such cases, an appropriate
response to the child's question might be "What do you mean?" This response
gives the child an opportunity to clarify his question and identify exactly what
information is needed as an answer. Similarly, a question such as "Do I have two
mommies?" could be given a reflective response such as "Is that what you
think?--you have two mommies?" This type of response opens the door for dialogue
that may give the teacher insight into the child's evolving understanding of
Preschoolers and kindergartners who were adopted as infants or toddlers
rarely display any adoption-related adjustment problems; they have little
understanding of reproduction and, therefore, cannot really understand what
adoption means (Smith, 1993). Through sensitive discussions and simple, honest
explanations, however, teachers can help children understand that (a) every baby
grows inside a woman's body, and (b) after a baby is born, he may live with the
woman who gave birth to him, or he may live with other parents (Melina, 1989a).
Emphasis should be placed on helping children develop an understanding of
adoption as a way families are formed and an inclusive concept of "family" that
refers to people who care about each other independent of their biological
AVOID BIAS TOWARD ADOPTED CHILDREN
Some adoptive parents
are reluctant to share information about their child's origin with classroom
teachers; they are concerned that teachers may not understand the confidential
nature of the information and may treat their child differently from other
children in the classroom who have not been adopted. They may further believe
that teachers may start looking for problems because the child is part of a
nontraditional family (Melina, 1989b). Teachers, like many other people, may
react to societal stigmas and stereotypes of adoptedness that paint a less than
accurate portrait of an adopted child.
Generally, teachers make a conscious effort to treat all children equally.
Specifically, they should maintain consistent academic and behavioral
expectations that are independent of a child's adoptive status. Teachers may
especially want to examine the degree of leniency used in situations involving
an adopted child, because research suggests that teachers are more lenient with
a preschool child who has been adopted (Kessler, 1987).
CONSIDER USING BIBLIOTHERAPY
Although a number of books for
young children deal with the topic of traditional adoption, not all of these
stories portray the same process. Teachers need to carefully select adoption
books that not only relate a contemporary story but also parallel a particular
child's adoption history. For example, "The Chosen Baby" (Wasson, 1977)
describes a couple who easily adopts a baby boy, and later a baby girl, through
the services of an adoption agency. Although this delightful story is classic in
its charming explanation of the adoption process, it does not describe the means
by which many, if not most, adoptive families are formed today. However, it may
be difficult, if not impossible, to find books that do fit a particular child's
adoptive situation; a published book about a single woman adopting an infant
through a notice in the newspaper would be a rare find indeed. In this and
similar less common situations, making a book or a scrapbook might be suggested
as a way for parents to relate their child's adoption story. In fact, the best
storybook to use in talking to a child about adoption is one made by the
adoptive parents themselves--a loving, sensitive, factual description of their
child and their adoption experience just the way it really happened (Melina,
The familial landscape of our nation is ever
changing. No longer can early educators assume that all children in the same
classroom share a common traditional family structure. "The reality is that
children living in 'nontraditional' families now represent the majority in the
classroom. Their undeniable presence challenges our traditional definition of
'family' and demands that we create a more sensitive and inclusive environment
that supports children regardless of their family configuration" (Edwards & Sodhi, 1992, p. i).
Adapted from Stroud, Judith E.,
Stroud, James C., & Staley, Lynn M. (1997). Understanding and supporting
adoptive families. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24(4), 229-234. Copyright
1997 by Human Sciences Press, Inc.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adoptive Families of America (AFA):
(800) 372-3300; http://www.AdoptiveFam.org/
Derman-Sparks, L. (1989). ANTI-BIAS CURRICULUM: TOOLS FOR EMPOWERING YOUNG
CHILDREN. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young
Children. ED 305 135.
Edwards, C. L., & Sodhi, S. (1992). ME AND MY FAMILIES. Richmond, VA:
Johnson, P. I. (n.d.). ADOPT-A-CONFUSION: HOW USING ADOPTION TO CATCH
ATTENTION, TOUCH HEARTSTRINGS AND RAISE BIG BUCKS EXPLOITS CHILDREN WHO WERE
ADOPTED AND THOSE WAITING FOR PERMANENCY [Fact Sheet]. Indianapolis, IN:
Kessler, L. F. (1987). THE MEASUREMENT OF TEACHERS' ATTITUDES TOWARD ADOPTED
CHILDREN. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Fielding Institute.
Melina, L. R. (1989a). Guidelines given for classroom presentations on
adoption. ADOPTED CHILD, 8(4), 1-4.
Melina, L. R. (1989b). MAKING SENSE OF ADOPTION. New York: Harper & Row.
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (NAIC): (703)352-3488;
National Committee for Adoption. (1989). The adoption factbook. Washington,
DC: Author. ED 265 967.
National Council for Adoption: (202) 328-1200; http://www.ncfa-usa.org/%20
Smith, D. G. (1993). ADOPTION AND SCHOOL ISSUES [National Adoption
Information Clearinghouse Fact Sheet]. Rockville, MD: Cygnus Corporation.
Stolley, K. (1993). Statistics on adoption in the United States. FUTURE OF
CHILDREN [Adoption Special Issue], 3(1), 26-42. EJ 469 361.
Wardle, F. (1990). Endorsing children's differences: Meeting the needs of
adopted minority children. YOUNG CHILDREN, 45(5), 44-46. EJ 415 398.
Wasson, V. P. (1977). THE CHOSEN BABY. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.