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Adoption Goes to Preschool

Some preschoolers will benefit from a classroom adoption talk, but others may need a quieter approach to bolster their resiliency. By Jennifer Smart

As your child enters preschool, you may wonder, should you tell the teacher your child was adopted? Should you make a presentation in class? The answers will depend on your child. My two children joined our family with different backgrounds and personalities. My son was born in South Korea. He was the only Asian child in his class and was very shy. At the beginning of the year, I talked with his teacher about our family and about the adoption language we used at home, and let her know that he didn't like to be the center of attention.

My second child resembles me, with blond hair and blue eyes. If she'd wanted to, we probably could have avoided bringing up adoption altogether. But she was outgoing and spoke openly about the way she joined our family. I coached her teacher, explaining some of the words she might hear my daughter use. I also told the teacher that my daughter might not be her usual boisterous self around Mother's Day, because she tended to get sad about her birthmother at that time.


My children taught me the importance of considering their needs and solutions individually. Here are three ways to bring adoption into your child's earliest classroom setting.

Educate the teacher. Write a letter (adapt the sample at or meet with the teacher before school starts. Explain that, while adoption is a topic you discuss openly within your family, your child may not want to be singled out based on this fact. Share some of the adoption-friendly language you use at home, and ask about upcoming activities that could cause problems. For example, children may be asked to bring in baby pictures in order to guess who's who. Your child may not have a photo of himself as a newborn, or may be the only child of his race. Instead, you might suggest that the teacher have students bring in pictures from when they were "younger" or to draw themselves as babies.

Read a book. Volunteer to read one or two of your family's favorite storybooks during story time. Good titles for this age include:

  • How I Was Adopted, by Joanna Cole. Cole's book is a straightforward introduction to the topic.
  • A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza. A little bird searching for a mother is welcomed into Mrs. Bear's home.
  • The Family Book, by Todd Parr. Adoption is presented as one of many ways families are formed. Preschoolers love Parr's colorful illustrations.
  • Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • I'm Adopted, by Sheila M. Kelly and Shelley Rotner. Simple language is accompanied by photos of real adoptive families.

Make a presentation. If you decide to give an adoption presentation at preschool, keep it simple. Children of this age can't understand reproduction, biological relationships, and many of the difficulties that lead to an adoption plan. Use a doll to explain that sometimes a woman who has a baby can't take care of any baby. She looks for another family to take care of him. That family adopts the child and becomes his family forever. Keep the conversation general, rather than get into your own child's story. But you might bring in a piece of clothing or a souvenir from your child's birth country, or the photo you took with the judge on finalization day, if your child gives his consent.

Although I would have enjoyed doing a classroom presentation on adoption, it wasn't right for either of my children. It may be for your family, though. Your child’s self-esteem is precious, and you know in your heart how to nurture it.

Jennifer Smart is an occupational therapist and writer who lives with her family in Ontario, Canada.

Preparing Your Child

Preschool will probably be the first time your child is off on his own. No matter how sensitive the teacher is, your child will likely be asked questions by curious classmates. Offer possible responses:

"Is that your real mommy?"
"My mommy is my forever mommy. She and daddy adopted me."

"Why don't you live with your real mom?"
"My birthmom wasn't ready to be a mommy yet. My mom and dad were ready to be parents, so they adopted me."

"Why do you have brown skin and your mommy doesn't?"
"I have brown skin because my birthmommy has brown skin, but she couldn't take care of me. My mommy has light skin because her parents have light skin. She adopted me and will be my mommy forever."

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