I was attending my third homeschool conference when I heard from a speaker who had adopted a daughter from China. His words piqued my interest because at the time I had one adopted daughter (who was a baby at the time) and two school-age boys. He believed that homeschooling was the very best thing for adopees because they have so much trauma and lost time with their new parents, and that it’s important to make up for that loss by having extra time at home together. That made sense to me. Even though I was already on board with homeschooling, I strengthened my resolve to see it through for the sake of my current and future adoptees. I was sure it was the best thing for them. Fast forward eight years and now all my (six) kids are in school.
Well, life changed. When I started homeschooling, I had two fairly typical biological kids (one had ADHD, but it was manageable). Over the next few years, we added two infants to our family through adoptoin. Homeschooling certainly got busier, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. It wasn’t until our children that we adopted reached school-age and beyond that learning disabilities and trauma behaviors surfaced. I realized that homeschooling wasn’t working for our family anymore. My husband and I took a prayerful look at our family and options and decided to make a change.
It turns out that the question of “what is the best way to educate adopted kids?” (and let’s face it, any kids) is very complicated and can even change over time. Knowledge is power, so we’ll explore the pros and cons of the main three education options so you can make the best decision for your family.
Individualized Education: You can tailor the education to your child’s specific learning style. Kids who were adopted often have sensory and education needs that call for extra time in school or extra breaks. With homeschooling, you have the flexibility to take sensory breaks, ADHD breaks, etc. When my oldest child was a little guy, he would have to take frequent breaks to run around the house or jump on the trampoline before his little body and mind could focus on reading.
Flexibility: Because you only have a few students, homeschooling really doesn’t take that long. You have the ability to focus on just the one or few students you have, and your time isn’t taken up with classroom management like it would in a school setting. Especially for the younger years, core subjects of math, reading, and handwriting can take up as little as one hour a day—and you have the rest of the day for exploration, reading aloud, kitchen fun, art, or whatever areas you want to explore with your child(ren).
Also, you set your own school schedule. Some homeschool parents like to stick to the typical school schedule of educating August through May and taking the summer off, while others prefer to school year-round. When we homeschooled, we had Monday through Thursday as our core subject days, and Fridays were beach day or hike day. We did this for years and our kids learned so much from those Fridays of learning about creatures at the beach or on the trail. We also started the school year in July and would take a monthlong break in late September for a family vacation. We enjoyed empty parks, museums, and beaches while everyone else was in school!
Time For Extracurriculars: Do you have a kid that is passionate about piano, basketball, or robotic LEGOs? Homeschooling allows extra time for your child to dive into their passions. Learning often comes easier for our kids who were adopted when they can learn through things they are passionate about.
More Bonding Time: You have the luxury of plenty of time to spend with your child. You can snuggle up on the couch and read books, go on walks, bake together, go to the library, go to museums… the possibilities for togetherness and bonding are endless.
Routine: Adoptees usually need a set routine. It can be challenging to set and enforce a routine at home, especially if that’s not in your personality.
A lot of Work: With the freedom of being in charge of your own schedule and curriculum also comes responsibility. It is all on you to research the curriculum, order it, and figure out how to use it. It’s up to you to figure out the best schedule for the day that fits everyone’s needs. It can be hard to feel like the entire burden of your child’s education rests on your shoulders—not to mention the stress of being with your children all day every day and finding it hard to get a break. It is manageable for some, but overwhelming for others.
Missed Opportunities: When your child is homeschooled, they can miss out on opportunities for making friends, learning alongside peers, and learning from teachers with different teaching styles. It can be difficult to come up with the same extracurricular activities your child would get in school like sports, theater, and music lessons. When you homeschool, it’s all up to you to provide these opportunities.
More Stress (with personality/learning disability): The flip side to being with your child all day, is that, well, you’re with your child all day, every day. This can be overwhelming for some children and parents when there are personality conflicts present or even learning disabilities that make learning extra difficult for both student and teacher.
Public School Pros
Cost: It’s free!
Diversity: Depending on your child’s ethnicity and your community’s makeup, your child has a higher chance of being exposed to other cultures and ethnicities that may look more like them. This can help children who were adopted feel closer to their community and help with identity issues that may come up in their teen years.
Highly Structured: Your child will get the routine and structure they may need. The curriculum is provided by the teachers and performance is regulated to ensure that a state standard is being met. As a result, parents can depend on the quality of public education to be more consistent, reliable, and inclusive of each student and their needs.
Public School Cons
Resources: Some parents report that it can be difficult to get their children the individual attention or resources that they need. This can be especially true if your child needs special education resources. However, this seems to be highly dependent on individual school districts, so check with your community school district to find out more information. You can also ask fellow parents about their experience with the school district on your town’s Facebook or Nextdoor community page.
Lack of Flexibility: Your child will be expected to attend school even if they are having a rough day. It’s not easy taking time off for mental health days, therapy sessions, or even just family trips.
Bullying: The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) reports that roughly 20 percent, or one in five kids experience some form of bullying throughout their K-12 education. No parent wants their child to have to deal with the effects of bullying, so this is often a deal-breaker for those who want to shield their children from dealing with this.
Ratios: Some districts have larger class sizes which means your child may not get the individualized attention they need. But, according to USAFacts.org, most states’ class sizes are actually the smallest they’ve been in 30 years—today most states average 18-22 students per class, whereas 30 years ago they were closer to 30 per class.
Private School Pros
Culture: Each private school has its own mission statement and culture. Some are focused on exploratory education, some are focused on high-achieving academics, and others focus on inclusion. You get to pick the culture you want your child to participate in.
Safe: Private schools are typically best able to ensure a safe learning environment. According to NCES, lower percentages of private school students ages 12–18 reported fear of being attacked, gang presence, and hate speech on campus during the 2019 school year compared to their public school peers.
Resources: With higher budgets, private schools often have the resources to offer a wide variety of extracurricular activities such as sports, theater, art, and music. They also tend to have more updated facilities and the ability to offer specialized educational opportunities.
Specialty in adoption/special needs: If you are lucky enough to live close to a school that specializes in learning disabilities and special needs, this can be an amazing resource to take advantage of. Teachers that are trained in trauma, sensory needs, and learning issues are adoptive parents’ dreams come true. This school in Idaho is a good example of a learning community doing this well.
Private School Cons
Cost: Depending on the area you live in, affording private school tuition can cost as much as a mortgage. (But don’t let that deter you… there are often scholarships and ways of contributing to the school community in return for discounted tuition).
Diversity: Private schools tend to be less diverse than public schools. According to NCES, the vast majority of US private school students—66.7 percent—are white. In 2017, 25 percent of school-age students in the US identified as Hispanic and 14 percent as Black. However, Hispanic and Black children respectively represented just 11.3 percent and 9.3 percent of private school students during the 2017-18 school year.
Stress: Depending on the culture of the private school you choose, if there is a high emphasis placed on academic achievement, this can equal more stress for a child that is already struggling with issues relating to adoption.
When thinking through education options, it’s important to consider not only your child’s needs but also your needs. For example, a homeschooling mom that is trying her best to meet everyone’s needs yet is overburdened and stressed, may not be forming the loving relationship with her children she desires. It may actually be better for both her and her child if a teacher takes over the teaching so that the mom can focus on nurturing. It can be hard to maintain the role of both mom and teacher.
On the other hand, a child that is facing bullying at school may benefit from a year or more at home to build up their self-esteem and get a break from the social pressures of a typical school setting.
Whatever way you choose to educate your children, make sure you build up your support. When I homeschooled my kids with special needs, it was very hard to find anyone who could relate or offer advice. Now there are lots of online communities that have special needs homeschooling in common. Finding community is a bit easier in a brick-and-mortar school setting, but it still takes intentionality to find like-minded parents with whom you can support each other.
It definitely helps to remember that the decision of how to educate your child doesn’t have to be a forever thing. You can take it one year at a time and gauge how things are going and what is best for your family for right now.