Star of the Week

Adoption issues can pop up anywhere, especially at school. Make sure your child is prepared.

Common classroom assignments can raise adoption issues

Has your child been “Star of the Week” yet?

If you have a youngster entering kindergarten or first grade this fall, chances are he or she will soon be tapped for this special honor.

For the uninitiated, let me explain. In many early elementary school classrooms, a child is picked each week to be the “star.” The child is given some special classroom responsibilities, such as being the line leader.

But most important, the star is often asked to complete and share a poster telling about him- or herself. The poster almost inevitably has a space for a baby picture and an area where the child is asked to glue a photo, draw, and write about his or her family. Many five- and six-year-olds are quite excited about the project, as they are made to feel very special about it.

However, it can raise adoption issues. When my then-five-year-old was made star of the week, she gleefully filled out the poster, fretting over each section and wanting to get it just right. She was filled with excitement as she reported to class, clutching her star poster. Her teacher reported to me what happened.

The first question from one of her classmates was, “Where is your father?” My daughter cheerfully explained that she did not have a father, that she was adopted. The second question was, “Is that why you look different from your mom?” The teacher says that what followed was a lengthy, thoughtful classroom discussion about adoption. I’m thrilled to say that she reported my daughter handled the whole thing with competence and grace.

While I felt good about how the episode resolved itself, it made me realize that even at a very young age, our children are expected to be able to field questions about their origins and family make-up. It’s something they will have to face for the rest of their lives. Witness the recent Miss America Pageant. One of the finalists had been adopted from Korea. While the other contestants were asked about their social causes, this young woman was asked about her adoption.

The general public seems to find the subject as fascinating as we families do. In school that curiosity can cause our children to feel out of place during activities ranging from family trees to health education classes. The star of the week project was my first encounter with adoption issues in the classroom. It highlighted the importance of talking early and often to our children, because they may need to be fielding questions by the time they’re five.

Adoptive parents have to be even more involved in school than parents by birth. It’s important to be aware of what is coming up, and remember that kindergarten, first, and second grades almost always have a family focus.

“It is unfortunate that classroom curriculum teaching units on families don’t seem to have caught up with the times,” says Nancy Kaplan, a child and family therapist and adoption social worker who runs the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Washington State. “Many teachers continue to use archaic tools for teaching units on families that only address birth children living in two-parent families. These units can be painful and difficult for children who have a different family structure.”

Kaplan recommends a proactive approach of talking with the teacher, understanding the potential pitfalls, and suggesting alternative assignments and activities. For example, a Family Tree could be a Family Orchard. Getting to know the teacher and the curriculum is vital.

Despite your best efforts, though, it’s almost a sure thing your child will run into situations where an ordinary event brings up adoption issues, and his or her adoption becomes “center stage.” Your job is to get your child ready to face those situations. Talk early and talk often! I’m happy to say that after having the star of the week event in both kindergarten and first grade, it does not appear to be part of the second grade curriculum. Then, however, they will be studying family heritage. Oh, boy!


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