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Let’s Get Personal

Some school assignments ask for details that make our kids feel uneasy. But you—and your child’s teacher—can help. by Nancy Sheehan Ng



Elementary school teachers often plan assignments or activities that require students to gather or reveal information about themselves. Adopted children sometimes have trouble with these assignments, particularly if they don’t have information about their past. But teachers can offer alternatives that let all students participate and learn.

Changing the Focus

Sticky assignments may begin as early as kindergarten, when students—learning the concepts of “big” and “little”—are asked to compare their birth weight to their present weight. Later, they may be asked to make a timeline of their lives, beginning with the hospital where they were born and the time of their birth. Children who were born overseas may not have that information, or even an accurate date of birth.

All children benefit when teachers provide some creative alternatives. For example, instead of the assignment that asks for everyone’s birth weight, a teacher might introduce a “big/little” activity by saying, “Remember when we all weighed ourselves during the first week of school? I saved those numbers, and now we can see how much each of you has grown.”

Instead of the personal timeline project, a teacher might say, “The class is going to create a giant timeline of the years that you have been alive. Each of you is to find out something important that happened in your family or in the world during these years, and we will add it to our timeline. I have some books up here you can look in, or you can ask a grownup.”

Elementary school children are sometimes asked to write an autobiography. Some adopted kids have no difficulty doing so, but for others, the task is harder. They often feel they either must lie about their past or reveal things that are inappropriate for a classroom setting. Fortunately, there are options for this assignment, as well. Teachers can ask students to write a biography of a historical figure from a first-person point of view, or share a story about an event in their life or a favorite experience at school.

Some teachers put the spotlight on a certain child during “Student of the Week” ceremonies or “I Am Special Day.” This activity is designed to build self-esteem, but it can backfire. An adopted student may feel uneasy hearing classmates’ family stories or seeing their baby pictures if he doesn’t have any of his own.

Again, teachers can put a new twist on this activity. They can encourage students to use this special time to share information about anything in their life, whether it’s a favorite sport or hobby, a pet, or an extended family member. As long as the focus is on diversity and originality, each student can shine.

Nancy Sheehan Ng is a board member of Families Adopting in Response. This article was adapted from Adoption and the Schools: Resources for Parents and Teachers (FAIR, 2001). For ordering information, go to fairfamilies.org.

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