Friday, November 5, 2010

Talking Adoption to the First Grade

I was invited to talk about adoption to Maya's first grade class today.  Maya was really excited as we picked out some books to read and decided on what we wanted to say.  She loved being my helper as we explained adoption to her class! 

From an article at Adoptive Families Magazine, How I Explained Adoption to the First Grade, I stole the idea of bringing a doll to class, and from my friend LisaLew I stole the idea of having the class act out an adoption.

I started out asking the kids if they knew what adoption was.  Just about everyone in the class raised their hands, and I started pointing at a few.  The first was a little girl I knew was adopted from China, and she said, "Adoption is when a mom and dad want a baby and they go to another country to get it."  The next said, "When a lady isn't married and has a baby, she has to give it up for adoption." [Wonder where he heard that?!]  Maya said, "When birth parents have a baby and can't take care of it, they take it to an orphanage, and the orphanage looks for a forever family for the baby." 

So, they each had a little piece of the story of adoption, and I wanted to affirm what they knew and also deepen their understanding.  And part of a real understanding of adoption is realizing that there are birth parents who relinquish a child before a child is adopted into a new family.  So often the focus on adoption starts with the adoptive parents, especially for kids' understanding of adoption.

The kids have been talking about baptism and bringing in posters with baptism pictures (Maya did an adoption poster instead, and that's the photo above)  of them as tiny infants, so I talked to them as "baby experts," who knew a lot about babies.  Their confidence in their knowledge of all things baby was pretty funny! I pulled a baby doll out of my bag, and introduced them to "Baby Joy." I asked them what Baby Joy needed to grow up healthy and happy, and they had lots of ideas -- milk, baby food, diapers, clothes, shelter, lots of sleep (and the crib to do it in!), warmth, love, and being good Catholic school students, baptism!  I asked whose job it was to give babies these things, and they listed parents first, and then grandparents, aunts & uncles, etc.  So I asked what would happen if parents couldn't take care of a baby or provide the baby with what it needs.  The class immediately said adoption.

I had Maya choose two kids to be the baby's first parents, and they stepped up to the front of the room to hold Baby Joy.  The "mom" was the other little girl adopted from China.  We talked about some reasons why birth parents might not be able to take care of a baby -- too young, too poor, too sick.  Mom clearly didn't want to give up Baby Joy -- she said, "But if only one of the birth parents is sick, maybe a friend could help take care of the baby."  I agreed with her that sometimes all birth parents need is a little help, and said that sometimes there wasn't anyone who could or would help.  So she said goodbye to the baby, and handed her over to the two girls Maya picked to be the nannies at the orphanage.  It was actually quite poignant.

While the nannies took care of the baby, patting and rocking her, Maya picked two kids to be the adoptive parents and one kid to be the social worker.  We talked about the social worker's job, to find a good family for Baby Joy.  The adoptive parents had to be able to take care of the baby, and promise to love her and take care of her forever.  So the social worker asked the prospective adoptive parents:  "Do you have money?  Do you have a house? Do you promise to love the baby forever?"  They said yes, and I said they could go to the orphanage to get their baby.  As the new parents approached the nannies, it was so funny! The social worker swooped in and took the baby from the nanny and handed her to the adoptive mom! I thought it was amazing that, not having a real clue about what a social worker was, a first grader would feel she needed to be the one to hand over the baby!

After our little play, I read two of our favorite adoption books -- Over the Moon and the Best Single Mom in the World.  The kids were so quiet and attentive, I was amazed!  They like them, too!  I like them because they both mention birth moms, and I wanted to read the single mom one to talk about the other way our family is different. 

I asked the class if they noticed anything different about Maya and me.  By this time, Maya is plastered to my side, beaming at being the center of attention, and she put her cheek to mine -- just in case they couldn't figure out how we are different!  It's clear that we don't give children permission to point out racial differences, because the first responses were tentative -- Maya was from China, they said.  I explained that Maya was Chinese-American and I was Caucasian; gotta give them some vocabulary before they can identify difference.  We talked about whether families had to look alike, and whether you can love people who don't look like you. 

We then talked about how families are different.  Some have only moms, some have only dads, some have both moms and dads, and some have both moms and dads, but the moms and dads don't live together.  I then got to hear about every family arrangement in the class that didn't follow the mom-and-dad formula!  Yes, in case you wondered, your first grader WILL tell anyone who asks that mom and dad live together, but don't sleep in the same bed!  LOL!!!

All in all, I think I managed to explain adoption in an age-appropriate way to the first grade.  Baby Joy was a big hit, as was the role play.  Maya loved every minute of it, and the other little girl adopted from China was quite proud to announce she was adopted, too.  I think Maya is very lucky to have a teacher who is open to such discussion in the classroom.


Anonymous said...

I remember that precious baby in those pictures! clf

LisaLew said...

Love the poster, ya'll sure worked hard. It sounds like you and Maya did a wonderful job personalizing adoption for the other students.

Favorite part: " By this time, Maya is plastered to my side, beaming at being the center of attention, and she put her cheek to mine -- just in case they couldn't figure out how we are different!" Maya is always up for some form of a cuddle with you!!

Joanne said...

Love this!! I really like the idea of acting out the adoption to really help the kids understand what is happening to "baby Joy" ~ I am going to print it out for future reference :)

Elizabeth@Romans8:15 said...

that sounds like it was a lovely experience! Good job!

Anonymous said...

Were the parents all aware that you would be coming to discuss adoption? I ask because you and your family are obviously very open about adoption and your girls seem to process it in a positive manner....but that might not be the case for every child. I can think of situations where a child with attachment issues/RAD would have had a very difficult time after your presentation.
Just wondering....

malinda said...

Good question, anon. I talked to the mom of the other adopted child in Maya's class before the presentation to let her know what I was planning to talk about and inviting her to participate. She couldn't come, but had no problem with what I was doing.

Anonymous said...

interesting. jane brown thought these types of adoption talks were best be done NOT by the parent of any of the adopted children in the class. she thought it was a better idea to ask another adoptive parent or someone else familiar with adoption. however, it seemed in your case, it worked out.

Reena said...

If it isn't the parent who does it then who? Of course you want to make sure it is OK with your child first and possibly let the other parents know the topic would be discussed.

Who else would know the topic of adoption well enough?

It is often difficult to get parents to volunteer to do anything in a lot of situations-- but add to that asking someone to address a topic like adoption where they may not have much knowledge or expereince.

SluggoMarie said...

The idea that adoptive parents are the only ones who would know the topic well enough to talk seems a bit short sighted. First, "Anon" said another adoptive parent the other person could be an adoptive parent (just not "you.")

Second, there are a great many people who understand adoption quite well. For example, adoptees and birth parents. Granted, they will also address other aspects of adoption, ones that adoptive parents may not, but that is still about adoption.

Additionally, there are a vast array of scholars, counselors, experts, teachers, and so forth who could do a fine job of explaining adoption to children. In fact, they may well do better than many (most?) adoptive parents because they don't have as strong an emotional attachment to the issue. Adoption is what it is regardless of whether or not someone has personally participated in it.

And I say all this as an adoptive parent with many friends who are part of the adoption spectrum. I am also writing my dissertation on a facet of adoption, so I'm one of those scholars as well.