All adoptive parents know that there will one day be a school project that will demand something we can’t produce — a baby picture, a family tree that is simple and clean or a DNA experiment that will show that family members are related.
Christine Mitchell has written a wonderful free resource for dealing with those dreaded school family tree and genealogy projects. The pamphlet addresses nearly every issue that comes up – from baby pictures that many adoptive children don’t have, to building integrated family trees and creating timelines of a child’s life – and gives practical advice on how to approach a teacher and manage the project.
Adoption Awareness in School Assignments A Guide for Parents and Educators is a valuable resource that you’ll turn to time and again.
For family tree projects, one adoptive mom suggests incorporating the birth family as the roots of the tree and having the branches be the adoptive family. This can be taken further with the names of all the known biological family members stretching down into the soil representing the roots of life.
There are many ways to handle these school assignments but the most important thing to consider is your child’s ability or inability to process the information that will be revealed in the project.
Issues to consider are the length of time the child has been home, your child’s history and how you would like to explain it, his ability to process the feelings involved in the project and his desire and ability to discuss it with the entire class. If you don’t think your child is ready, then make arrangements with the teacher to do an alternative project or to skip it altogether. Every child is different and it is important to follow your instincts and not be distracted by the teacher or other parents who don’t fully understand adoption and all its complexities.
I like the way one adoptive family incorporated two images that have meaning to them in their family tree project. They worked birth and adoptive family members into the trees in a creative and fun way using the images they chose. When you are in your child’s country, look for images you can hang on the wall and someday use in a school project. It sounds like it’s reaching far into the future, but you’ll be happy you thought about it when it’s time to create your child’s family tree.
If you’re not sure what to do, there are a variety of books and resources available. Some are listed below.
Consider how much you’d like to share with the teacher and the class and the comfort level your child has with his history, culture and adoption. Role play and prepare your child to answer the inevitable follow-up questions classmate will have. The more prepared your child is, the more success he will have in the classroom.
Most importantly, do the groundwork now, before you are faced with an urgent assignment. If you are prepared you can present alternatives to your child before panic sets in. When an assignment does come up, talk to your child about how he would like to proceed and present some of the ways to do the project. Don’t be shy about talking to the teacher if you think the assignment will be too painful for your child or if you think the project is not appropriate. Christine Mitchell’s guide can help you discuss it with the teacher.
Adoptive Families Together has developed free printable alternatives to the traditional tree.
Family Tree Magazine has a more traditional printable ancestor chart that incorporates both the biologic and adoptive families.
Let us know how you handled your child’s project.