Classroom Presentation Primers
Are you planning to make an appearance in your child’s classroom this year? Use these cues from fellow parents who have taught their children’s peers about adoption, culture—and family.
Until young children are told otherwise, they may assume that being born to a mother and father is the only way for a family to form. Here are some presentations that parents have developed to introduce the concept of adoption, to head off nosy questions on the playground, and to plant the idea that all families are different—and all kinds of families are wonderful.
Questions and Answers
“When my daughter, Payton, was in first grade, I learned that the family tree assignment was coming up that year—and decided it was time for me to give a talk at school. I began by reading aloud from All About Adoption, by Marc Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata.
When I got to the page listing the things babies need, I stopped reading and asked the class to help me make our own list. As they responded that babies need toys, food, love, hugs, diapers, and a bed, I wrote their answers on the chalkboard. Then I said, ‘Adoption happens when the parents who give birth to a child realize they can’t provide everything on this list. So they make a hard choice, an adult choice, to find another home for the baby.’
After finishing the book, I let the kids ask questions. I was surprised by how thoughtful they were. One child wanted to know how I knew where to find Payton. I told him that Payton’s father and I had thought about adopting a child for a long time. When we were ready, we looked in the local phone book for the number of a children’s advocacy group, because we knew that it helped children in the foster system find forever homes.
When a child asked when and where we met Payton, I told her that a woman called a social worker brought Payton to our house when she was six weeks old. I described waiting and waiting, because the worker was late, and worrying that she’d never arrive. When another child wondered aloud, ‘So, Payton has another mother?’ I answered that Payton has a birthmom and a forever mom, and that I’m very lucky that I get to be her forever mom.
Payton chose to answer some of the questions herself. One of her classmates asked, ‘How does it feel to be adopted?’ I anxiously awaited the answer, and was relieved when Payton responded, ‘Great!’
I concluded by telling them that, if they ever had more questions about adoption, they could ask me when they saw me dropping off Payton at school.
Some adoptive parents I know were appalled when I described this talk. They say that it was a breach of my daughter’s privacy, but Payton is open about and quite proud of her story. I knew she had already begun talking about adoption with her friends—and was getting lots of questions. When I asked her how she’d feel about my giving a talk at school, she said, ‘Please help me explain adoption to my class.’ So that’s what I did.”
Paula, London, Ontario, Canada
“I am a first- and second-grade teacher. While I was in the process of adopting my little girl from China, I made a PowerPoint presentation to teach my students about the country’s people, food, clothing, schools, and geography. This led to a discussion about how we are all the same in some ways, and different in others.
For the next few months, I sprinkled several adoption picture books into the regular storytime mix. Two of my classes’ favorites were I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, by Rose Lewis, and I Don’t Have Your Eyes, by Carrie Kitze.
I also sent the children home with the Helping Classmates Understand Adoption handout from the AF website, to help families continue the discussion at home. Several parents wrote back asking if they could share their adoption stories with the class, too! It was a bonding time for everyone.”
Heidi, Bonney Lake, Washington
“I haven’t yet given a formal presentation, but I accompanied my five-year-old to school one day and read the class two age-appropriate books—Keiko Kasza’s A Mother for Choco and Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different. We then shared our adoption story, using the simple language we use when we tell it to each other. We concluded with a little poem we made up: ‘I picked you and you picked me; and we became a happy family.’ Easy and sweet.”
Many parents choose to introduce adoption within the context of a lesson on their child’s country or culture of birth. Whether your presentation complements a school project your child was assigned, or celebrates a holiday or special event, kids are always fascinated to learn how other people around the world look, what they wear, and how they live.
A New Year’s Party
“I’ve been holding a Cambodian New Year party for my daughter’s day care and school classes since she was two. Sina is six now, and she looks forward to the party every year—I think it helps her feel proud of her heritage. We also host a party at our house, and we attend a celebration at a local wat (a Buddhist temple).
The school party changes a bit every year, but usually we read a book (last year we read Silent Lotus, by Jeanne M. Lee), do a craft, watch a video of a Cambodian dance (and practice a few of the steps), eat some Cambodian foods, and throw water on each other for good luck. The kids love trying the different foods and throwing the water.
I keep it simple. I tell the kids that we’re celebrating Cambodian New Year because Sina was born in Cambodia before she was adopted. I don’t give a formal adoption presentation, but I answer any questions the kids have about Cambodia or adoption.”
“One day, my eight-year-old son, Alex, casually told his classmates that he was adopted from Ukraine, and that he had spent the first year of his life in an orphanage. He was deluged with questions. It was hard for Alex to respond to all of them, because he has PDD (pervasive developmental disorder). I asked his teacher if I could teach the class a Ukrainian craft. I thought I could also use my hour in the classroom to introduce appropriate adoption terminology.
I started by showing the class a map of Ukraine. (I used It’s a Big Big World Atlas, an oversized book with colorful maps.) Then each of the children got to color in a page with outlines of the Ukrainian flag and the American flag.
I then told the kids a little bit about life in Ukraine—the kind of games children play, and how they celebrate Christmas and Easter. I showed them some lacquered boxes, nesting dolls, and pysanky eggs we brought back from our adoption trip.
We moved on to ‘painting’ Ukrainian eggs. I supplied the kids with wooden eggs, which I’d purchased at a crafts store, and washable, fine-point markers. I gave each table one of the eggs I’d brought in, as an example, as well as a page I’d printed from eggs-files.tripod.com/pysanky_4.html, which explains many of the traditional symbols.
Many parents told me that their children came home very excited about what they had learned that day! All in all, I’d say it was a success. The kids enjoyed it, and Alex now has many more friends who understand adoption.”
Putting Our Son on the Map
“When it was my son, Dylan’s, special week in kindergarten, I accompanied him to school with a classroom-sized world map (from a teacher supply store) and box of star stickers. As I told the class about our adoption journey, Dylan put a gold star on all of the places he’d been—Belarus, where he is from; Warsaw, where we completed our embassy paperwork; London, where we had a layover; Chicago, where we landed; and our hometown, Nashville. We included a couple of recent vacations, as well—to Mammoth Cave, in Kentucky, and to Oklahoma, where my parents live.
We then invited Dylan’s classmates to place a silver star on a special place they had been. They had a great time. I left the map with the teacher, and she displayed it in her classroom.
This presentation worked well for several reasons. Dylan is a bit shy, so he liked being the center of attention, without having to perform. I didn’t specifically highlight adoption (we want Dylan to tell his own story), but this talk introduced the idea that he was a world traveler who’d already had some pretty special experiences. And, let’s face it, almost anything that involves stickers is going to be a hit in kindergarten!”
Chinese Crafts and Tales
“My husband and I gave a presentation on Chinese New Year for our daughter’s preschool class. The teacher introduced us, and explained that there was an important holiday being celebrated by their classmate, Lilian.
We began by teaching the children how to say ‘Happy New Year!’ in Chinese (Gung Hay Fat Choy!). Then, each of the kids got to take turns coloring in pictures of a dragon dance, and making a dragon puppet (pasting eyes, antennae, tongue, and scales onto a paper bag).
After everyone was done, it was time for snacks. We brought in mandarin oranges, almond cookies, and fortune cookies. Everyone loved them.
Then my husband told the story of Chinese New Year and explained its symbolism (fireworks, dumplings, the color red). To finish off the presentation, Lilian passed out red envelopes filled with Chinese chocolate coins.”
Heidi and Sam, Woodinville, Washington
An engaging tale is a great way to introduce a new topic to younger kids. Use one of these titles to begin your adoption presentation, then donate the book to the teacher or the school’s library.
- A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza (Putnam Juvenile). A little bird searches for a mother, and is welcomed
into Mrs. Bear’s home. This is a reassuring story for young kids.
- All About Adoption, by Marc Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata (Magination Press). This book explains adoption and explores the feelings children may experience as they grow.
- How I Was Adopted, by Joanna Cole (HarperTrophy). Cole’s book is notable within adoption literature for its explanations of pregnancy and birth.
- Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis (HarperTrophy). The lively text and illustrations are sure to hold kids’ attention.
- The Family Book, by Todd Parr (Little, Brown). This colorful book sends the message that diversity is something to be celebrated. Perfect for preschoolers.
- Families Are Different, by Nina Pellegrini (Scholastic). When an adoptee worries because she doesn’t look like her family, her mom helps her understand that every family is unique.
- Adoption and the Schools, by Lansing Wood and Nancy Ng (fairfamilies.org). Families Adopting In Response created this 250-page resource for parents and teachers.
Find full reviews of these titles, and get more recommendations, at adoptivefamilies.com/books.
If you follow these guidelines when preparing for your classroom debut, it’s sure to be a success.
- Respect your child’s privacy. Unless you have your child’s explicit permission, explain adoption in a general way, rather than by telling his particular story.
- Be concrete. Dolls or other props will help young children relate.
- Start with a story. Pique the kids’ interest and introduce your topic with a good storybook.
- Make it interactive. Invite the class to help you compile lists of things babies need (bottles, food, clothes), or things that “real” parents do (feed, clothe, rock, hug and kiss).
- Get crafty. If you’re giving a presentation on culture, let the students make a (simplified) traditional craft from your child’s country of origin. If the purpose of your presentation is to introduce adoption, have them draw pictures of their families.
- Leave time for questions. Talk with your child beforehand and decide whether he wants to answer any questions, or if you should field all the queries.
- Encourage future conversations. Send the kids home with our talking tipsheet, “Helping Classmates Understand Adoption,” to help their parents answer any lingering questions.
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