The Great Back-to-School Kit

School is around the corner and your child may be entering a day care, pre-school or elementary school.  Here are 10 simple and effective ways to bring adoption into the classroom.  If you are an educator please consider utilizing some of these ideas as well.

1. Write a letter to your child’s teacher. By briefly explaining your family’s background and providing her with language to use when talking about adoption in the classroom, you make it clear that you:

– believe that families are created through love, not genetics;

– believe that adoption is something to be celebrated, not hidden;

– are available as a resource in the classroom.

Find several sample letters to use when composing your own at

2. Read an adoption storybook to the class during story time. An engaging tale is a great way to introduce a new topic to younger kids. Use a book to begin an adoption presentation, or simply offer to read to the class during regular story hour. Some favorites include:

All About Adoption, by Marc Nemiroff (Magination Press; ages 4-8). This introductory book explains adoption and explores different feelings children may experience as they grow.

How I Was Adopted, by Joanna Cole (Harper Trophy; ages 4-8). This well-known children’s book is notable within adoption literature for beginning with and explaining birth.

A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza (Putnam Juvenile; ages 3-6). A little bird searches for a mother and is welcomed into Mrs. Bear’s home. This sweet story is very reassuring for young kids.

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis (HarperTrophy; ages 4-10). This now-classic tale is less didactic than most adoption books. The storyline is sure to capture all kids’ interest.

To keep adoption stories on the radar year-round, donate a set of books to your child’s classroom.

3. Suggest a community service project around National Adoption Day, which falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This day celebrates the adoptions of children in foster care around the U.S. Your child’s class might accept donations of food and clothing for foster families, make cards thanking foster parents for the important work they do, or donate and wrap holiday gifts for local foster kids. Visit the official National Adoption Day website for more ideas.

4. Introduce the topic of racial differences in people around the world. Many children, especially those who live in relatively homogenous parts of the country, benefit from learning how children around the world look, what they wear, and how they live. These books are good places to start:

We’re Different, We’re the Same, by Bobbi Kates (Random House; ages 3-8). Familiar Sesame Street characters introduce young readers to people of different ethnicities.

Children Just Like Me, by Anabel Kindersley (Dorling Kindersley; ages 8-12). This photo-filled book is an engaging look at children around the world.

If the World Were a Village, by David Smith (Kids Can Press; ages 8-12). This beautifully illustrated book reduces the world’s population of 6.2 billion people to 100, making it easier for kids to grasp the prevalence of different ethnicities, religions, languages, and so on.

5. Help teachers rethink sticky assignments. Projects designed to explore a child’s past can be difficult for our kids. Encourage your child’s teacher to present several options to the entire class, not just to your child. Here are ideas for more inclusive projects:

Family Tree: Students can draw themselves on the trunk of a tree and someone whom they love on each branch, regardless of biological or adoptive relationships. Or they can place names of adoptive family members in the branches of a tree and birth family members in its roots. Using a house metaphor in lieu of a tree allows flexibility to incorporate all members of a child’s family.

Timeline: Instead of starting with their birthdates, children can cite memorable events from each calendar year they’ve been alive; older students can create a timeline that includes a national or world event from each year they have been alive.

Star of the Week: Request that students bring in photographs of themselves from a year or two ago, rather than baby photos.

6. Arm your child with answers to questions she may be asked in class or on the playground. Your child may want to give different answers, depending on her mood. Here are a few options you can propose:

Q: “Where do you come from?”
A: “What do you mean? Are you asking where I was born or where I live?” or “New York.”

Q: “Is that your real mother?”
A: “Yes. She dropped me off at school today,” or “Do you mean my birthmother? I don’t live with my birthmother.”

Q: “Why didn’t your real mother want you?”
A: “Are you asking why I was placed for adoption?” or “My birthmother couldn’t take care of me, but she made sure I was adopted by my parents,” or “That’s private.”

Q: “Why don’t you speak Chinese?”
A: “I am American like you, so I speak English.”

7. Celebrate your child’s adoption day at school. Just as children often celebrate birthdays at school, adoptive families may plan classroom festivities to honor their children’s adoption days. We can visit our child’s classroom to read a book—like We Adopted You, Benjamin Koo, by Linda Walvoord Girard (Albert Whitman & Co.; ages 4-8), or Happy Adoption Day, by John McCutheon (Little, Brown; ages 2-6)—and cap off the occasion with treats.

If you adopted an older child, ask him if he’d like to celebrate his finalization or naturalization with his classmates.

8. Teach the teachers. Write to the school principal or Parent-Teacher Association to suggest a professional training session about adoption for the school’s faculty. Perhaps invite your adoption agency to attend and collaborate with you to provide the training.

Here are five vital points for education professionals to understand:

  1. Adoption is an open and natural topic in your family. Teachers should not be afraid to discuss it or to answer students’ questions.
  2. Children born in a different country are not experts on the language or culture of that country.
  3. There are neither real families nor fake families. Adoptive parents are parents like any others.
  4. Genetics and immigration can be taught without requiring students to trace their nuclear family’s roots [see #15].
  5. Parents of all types will appreciate more inclusive versions of “star of the week,” as well as autobiographical timeline and family tree projects.

9. Help the teacher blend adoption into the curriculum. Mentioning adoption from time to time in a matter-of-fact way helps kids see that adoption is a normal life experience for many families. For example, when studying biology and genetics in science class, adoption can be discussed in the context of nature vs. nurture. In a unit on immigration, the teacher can tell students that more than 20,000 young children become U.S. citizens each year via international adoption.

10 Donate a packet of educator materials to the school. For even more talking guidelines, alternatives to sticky assignments, and strategies for generally making the classroom a supportive, welcoming environment for all children, provide your child’s teacher or school with copies of:

An Educator’s Guide to Adoption. A reference booklet about creating a parent-teacher partnership, published by the Institute for Adoption Information.

–  S.A.F.E. at School. Strategies from the Center for Adoption Support and Education for ensuring an adoption-friendly school environment.