Back to school – how adopters are preparing for the change
With schools across Wales reopening this month, we spoke with two of our adoption champions, Rosie and Jillian to find out more about their experience of home schooling in lockdown and how they’re preparing their children for the transition back into the classroom.
Funnily enough, I’ve been far more worried than our daughter about going back to school. She’s going into Year 5 this year and can’t wait to see all her friends again, learn new things, and meet her new teacher. We’re fortunate that our daughter is so resilient and willing to embrace change – this is a result of her challenging childhood before we adopted her at the age of five as she’s used to being able to adapt to new situations.
Like many other parents, we found lockdown to be a tricky time – especially at first. Balancing parenting with working from home and home schooling was a major adjustment to get used to. Thankfully her school has been amazing in terms of keeping in regular contact and setting her work to keep busy and keep learning.
Saying that, we found it hard to get her to sit still and concentrate on the work at hand. What was really interesting was that my husband and I learnt loads about our daughter and how she deals with schoolwork. By gaining an insight into how and why she may struggle with a piece of work, we were able to come up with new ways to help her concentrate like maths treasure hunts around the house and letting her use a stress ball to concentrate.
Following this, we noticed a huge improvement in her behaviour and willingness to learn which has been brilliant to see. Although we haven’t been too intensive with the amount of work we’ve given her, we have kept up a consistent routine of home schooling and this has become more seamless with each day.
For all the terrible things that the virus has presented, we’ve loved being able to have so much more quality time together as a family. As a small family of three, our daughter has thrived being in a safe space with her dad and I, and we’ve had lots of special time to bond together by doing things like baking cakes and gardening in the sun.
To prepare our daughter for her new reality as she returns to school this month, my husband and I have been gearing up the school-related conversations over the past week. To put her mind at ease and get her excited about this, we’ve made sure to keep these conversations as light and upbeat as possible by focusing on questions like ‘what do you want in your lunchboxes?’, or ‘which of your friends are you looking forward to seeing?’. We’ve found this to work incredibly well and our daughter has become increasingly aware of the transition without being worried about it.
For adopted parents with children from complex and traumatic backgrounds like our daughter, we’d also recommend getting in touch with their teachers ahead of the school year to offer them practical guidance and tips for how to get the best out of your child. We’ve found in our case that teachers have appreciated this open dialogue and they are open to advice for how to deal with children who may have certain behavioural challenges.
Our son is in the Welsh stream of our local school and he’s just about to start Year Four. School can be a challenging environment for our son because he’s naturally nervous and anxious.
This has meant that whilst a lot of parents have experienced difficulties with the change of routine, our son has actually loved being surrounded by his dad and I at home for so long. In fact, it’s when he’s at his most relaxed. Since March, he’s been eating better, exercising more and getting lots of fresh air. His favourite things to do were jumping around on the trampoline and going for long walks with us.
He’s certainly benefited from being able to communicate with friends and extended family virtually. We bought him headphones with a mic to use with his Xbox which meant that he could play games and chat with his friends from school. This was an absolute godsend as it allowed him to still be able to have social interaction and chat with people who weren’t his parents for a change! We also let him use FaceTime to chat with extended family members and sent and received videos from siblings placed with other adoptive families.
One thing that has emerged from the past few months is how resilient our son can be. From day one, we decided to be open and honest about why the world was changing and he could no longer go to school. To our surprise, he took this all in his stride and was willing to embrace a change of routine.
Even though our son happily accepted his change of routine and showed no signs that he was worried about the situation with the virus, like many others, we found home schooling to be an arduous process. There were often moments when our son was resistant to learning and he could be hard on himself if he got the wrong answers.
This could be a painful thing to watch and it took a lot of reassuring that he needed to stop being so hard on himself. We had to remind him that it doesn't matter if he got answers wrong, as long as he was trying his best. The situation has become easier as we all got to used to the change.
When schools re-opened for a week in July it helped to get him excited about the return by giving him a taste of the ‘new normal’ and helping him to understand what to expect. Our son loves a clear structure, so seeing all the changes the school have needed to make following the pandemic like letting him have his own desk and eat lunch in the classroom have undoubtedly helped him to look forward to the transition.
My advice for any parent who is preparing their child to get back into the classroom is to be as open as possible with them about any concerns that they might have. Don’t be afraid to discuss the realities of the new school situation but try to do it in a way that won’t be overwhelming for them. The pandemic has been a massive test for all of us and it’s easy to forget just how tough children can be, especially those who might have had a tougher start to life than many of us.