Tuesday's Answers: Educating Newly Adopted Older Children

Thank you everyone for your answers to this week’s Tuesday Topic which was:

How old were your internationally adopted children when they came home? We are a homeschooling family, so when our kids come home, they’ll have lots of time to get adjusted. But what did you do with them when they first got home as far as “schooling”? How much down time did you give them to adjust before you started with the learning of things like letters, sounds, all kinds of direct teaching? I’m just wondering if too much too fast causing them to shut down with overload?

This is what you all had to say:

lorismusings said…

Our girls were 10 and 6 when they came home from India. (They have now been with us for just over eighteen months.) They came not speaking much English – maybe ten words – and not very helpful words at that! 🙂

They came home in February and so I took that spring and summer just to play games with them, using pre-school type learning games, working with picture flash cards to learn English words, playing matching games, reading to them, and just enjoying getting to know each other. It takes time just to adjust to all that is new.

I started home schooling them in the fall, but I tried to be fairly laid back although we did keep to a schedule of five days a week, about three hours every morning. I was invited to join a home school craft group that met once a month on Fridays. It was a wonderful way for the girls to meet and socialize with other children and even better that there were other adopted children as part of the group. I also had them go to AWANA which they really enjoyed!

My girls had very little educational background so it has been slow going and sometimes difficult to teach them. I am thankful for my background home schooling my two bio kids – one who had learning disabilities.

What I have found is I need to be very patient and move as slow as is necessary for each child. I have found that I need to be open minded about what I see as their success in academics. It takes time (years) to adjust to a new language, family, culture, food, way of educating, etc.

Every child is different and I have talked to many parents of older adopted children and they all have different experiences in regards to school. There are a lot of variables.

It is an adventure and one that will find you at times exhilarated with your success while the next moment you are discouraged with what seems like failure when you feel like you have no idea how to tackle something! It is one of the most stretching and rewarding things you will ever do.

Laurel said…

We brought home 3 siblings from Ghana in March ’08. They were 6, 8, and 12 when they came home.

We have homeschooled for the past 18 years, so that was a natural fit.

Our kids were/are excited to learn, so we jumped right in with school work (even buying workbooks while we were in Ghana with the children for 6 weeks).

We did a LOT of workbooks the first year, which helped us to really determine what levels they were at. Whereas this year, we have moved on to a literature based curriculum, with lots of reading and read alouds.


Jennifer said…

Our boys are 10 and 4 and we just brought them home from the Philippines two weeks ago. Our 10 year old started school today at the public school. We chose that time frame based on what other families who have adopted from the Philippines have done, and he was so very eager to start making new friends. He knows a good deal of English, so he should do okay, but they are putting him in ESL class twice a day for now.
Our 4 year old speaks no English at all, so it’s good that he has almost a year before he starts kindergarten. I have started some letter work with him, but we take it super slow. We just do one letter a day, and I only have him write it about 3 times. Any more than that and he gets really frustrated.

Becky said…

Our 3 children from Ethiopia arrived home here the end of February. They were ages 11, 6, and 5. I had “talked” with other homeschooling moms on their blogs about their approach to schooling their newly adopted children. There was a wide range of approaches given, with some families starting schooling as soon as their children were home, and some families waiting for 6 months to a year to begin. I believe this is one of those kind of decisions
that is very individual and varies with each individual child. But for us, after much thought and prayer, we decided to have our new chidren begin school within a couple of days of arriving home. We did plan their school to be such that it would be positive outcome activities, nothing that could cause frustration. We also made sure that there were a lot of fun snacks that were a part of completing school subjects, so that homeschool and completing schoolwork had a positive/ happy feel to it. I tried to combine my time in helping them with their schooling as a bonding time as well, with lots of praise and positive touch, such as a hand on their arm or shoulder while I viewed their work. Or sitting on the couch together with my arm around them as we worked together or I looked at what they had done. I made “check-off” sheets for their school subjects, since my other children had check-off sheets for their school, and the new children really liked that – being able to “mark off” that they had completed their school work and feeling like full, participating members of our homeschool. One of the reasons we decided to start school soon after arriving home was that we wanted them to feel from the start like full-fledged members of the family, and in having them participate in school while all of their siblings were doing their school seemed like it would help accomplish that. I will say again that their school involved things that I knew they could accomplish without frustration, but left them feeling like they were doing real school and like they were learning. Now that they have been here for 7 months, we have stepped up the pace, and they are doing more “standard” type school work, and it seems to be working. This is what has worked for us. Every child is different and has different backgrounds and different needs, so what works for one may not work for another.

lifeonplanetearth said…

We will be following a life learning path and providing our children with many varied opportunities to learn out in the world, from various people and places. I have been researching how children learn very intently and I am finding that everything ‘sticks’ more when it is learned autonomously. We feel life learning is an especially great fit for adopted children so they can adapt and adjust and be who they are while learning things at their own pace. The changes must be enormous for them and we don’t want ours to feel any additional pressure to perform. Lots more info about this on my blog.

Dimples came home in May of 2007 at 5 1/2 years old. I had planned to do some gentle, gradual schooling with her, but I had no idea where we would begin. As it turned out, she was not only eager to do school, she wanted to do it as quickly, aggressively, and competitively as possible. One sunny morning shortly after Dimples arrived home, I got out two kindergarten math books and gave them to Dimples and Boo. Dimples tore into hers with no explanation while Boo exclaimed over the pretty pictures. Dimples worked frantically, calling out “Done!” as she finished each page while Boo’s eyes got wider and wider. It quickly became apparent that I needed to give more thought to how I was going to homeschool the girls.

We found a system that worked for us and I continued to homeschool the girls together for 18 months, when we enrolled Dimples in school. I wrote about our decision here. Dimples is seven and now in the second grade. She is thriving in the small school she attends and is very happy there.

Honeybee arrived home one year ago at ten years old. She could speak only a handful of English words. I assumed we would not start school too soon since she had enough work to do learning how to live in a family, grapple with a new language and culture, and adjust to a completely new life. However, I also wanted her to feel like part of the family, so I gave her simple work to do during school time. As I began to add more academic work, she became increasingly frustrated. Everything was “too hard” and she refused to do work that seemed like it should have been simple for her. She did not want to do school at home and pleaded daily to “go school”.

A lovely woman from my church offered to tutor Honeybee in reading and worked with her three days a week for an hour. I focused on math and reinforcing the work of our reading tutor. We also read the Bible, did handwriting, and other simple learning activities.

Had I not been depleted by the challenges we were facing with Dimples, I would have persevered, but when we finally decided to enroll Dimples in school, I didn’t have the strength to keep going with Honeybee. I needed a break, and school gave me the respite I needed to survive. Fortunately both girls had a very good four months (Feb. – May) and did well in school. Honeybee was nowhere near grade level, but with extra help, she enjoyed being part of her third grade class.

Honeybee is homeschooling again this year. She is reading simple books and continues to meet with her reading tutor once a week. She is flying through a third grade math book and I hope to get her into a fourth grade book part way through the year. She attends a science class with Ladybug and is able to do some of the work independently. She loves art, music, and other subjects.

If I can offer any advice about educating recently adopted older children it would be: Be flexible, strive to find what works best for each of your children, and be willing to seek help where they need it. Remember that their greatest task is to learn how to live in your family. Like I told a friend of mine regarding her son, “He needs to learn how to be a “family boy” more than he needs to learn Social Studies. “

I could write so much more about educating older children, but I am out of time! Russ will be home from work soon and I want to turn my computer off before he gets home.

Happy Friday!


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. blessedfamily
    October 3, 2009

    What advice would or could you give working families as it pertains to educating older adoptive children?

  2. Dianne
    October 4, 2009

    Hi Lisa,

    I have been learning a great deal from your Tuesday topics, and was wondering if I could request a new one for a future Tuesday?

    We are feeling led to adopt an “older” (ie – school aged) child into our family, which currently consists of myself, my husband and our 1.5 year old daughter, and would like to go into this decision with as much information and preparedness as possible. We know that older adopted children will not inherently cause unsafe situations for the younger ones, but want to still be prepared for this possibility, and are aware that the grief and trauma they may experience on their journey could manifest in ways that could create an unsafe situation for our younger daughter.

    My question is: how have other families prepared to meet the needs of an older child coming into the family, and what have they done to be ready to also protect the best interests of younger children in the household? If they felt there was the potential that they could be creating a less safe situation for their younger child, are there specific ways that they prepared for this?

    We love our daughter devotedly, and despite feeling strongly called to adopt an older sibling for her, feel conflicted when thinking about the potential that this could potentially put her in a risky situation.

    Clearly we have a lot of thinking and praying to do about this, and I hope we can also learn from you some of your other readers.

    Thank you very much!

  3. Mamita J
    October 6, 2009


    Thank you again for your insight and for sharing this with us. I wanted to reply last week, but just could not squeeze another minute into my day.

    Cupcake came home at 4 years, 8 months. She would have missed the Kindergarten cutoff by 2 weeks, but I would have held her back anyway…because we all needed to blend and merge as a family for that first year. She was not interested at all in learning anything that looked like school.

    We spent the entire first year working with language and family life. She has made HUGE strides in healing, though we have a long way to go. She is VERY INTENSE and I needed the respite for 1/2 a day, so I can focus on my big kids schooling. She was ready for Kindergarten this fall, and has flourished in our local public school. She was not able to learn until she felt safe. Now, she is soaking in the information. It is very cool to watch.

    Thank you again.



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