By Robin Hilborn, Family Helper editor


How to introduce adoption in elementary school

As an elementary school teacher, you nurture your students’ growth. Bringing adoption into the classroom and treating it as one of many possible life experiences will benefit both adopted children and their classmates.

It would be wise to assume you do have adopted children in your class and to prepare for adoption questions when they arise.

Here are some ways to include adoption in everyday teaching situations.


When you talk about babies and families, use the words adoption or adopted occasionally. Read stories which mention adoption. According to the interests of the children, you might start a role-play game about going to the airport to meet a brother or sister adopted from abroad, or preparing the house for the arrival of an adopted child.

Early elementary

In discussing types of families, don’t forget non-traditional families (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family), including adoptive families. If a student has a baby born into his family, mention that some children join their families through adoption. This may prompt a child to say, “I was adopted” and you can extend the discussion. Note that a child’s adoption story is her personal story, for her to tell, or not, as she wishes.

Watch the language you use. There is no such thing as a “natural” mother (or an “unnatural” one!). You should say birth mother (or birth mum) and adoptive mother (see Module 4, Teaching the Language of Adoption).

If a student’s family are adopting a child, it’s a prime opportunity to talk about the process and the happiness involved in the child’s arrival.

Another opportunity is November, National Adoption Month. Display artwork from a family tree project. Consider discussing adoption, reading an adoption story or inviting an adopted adult or adoptive parent to visit the class. Children at this age may feel comfortable sharing their adoption story with their parent present.

You will have to judge, if possible, how receptive the class might be to a child’s adoption story. Guard against the child becoming the object of teasing and handle it as you would any teasing.

A variety of books for reading to the class are available (see Module 9, Adoption Resources). Some make adoption the main theme; others treat it simply in passing.

Later elementary

During these years, and in secondary school, students want to fit in, to be like everyone else. Adopted children are aware they are in the minority, that most kids are brought up by the parents who gave birth to them. They are unlikely to want to give adoption presentations or be singled out.

The family tree assignment (see Module 3, Biased Class Assignments) could offer the adopted child a chance to deepen her understanding of the place of adoption in her life.
With input from the FAIR Manual, Vol. 1
You may reproduce this item with the credit:
"From Family Helper,


ONE—Many ways to make a family
TWO—Many ways to create a child
THREE—Biased class assignments ... and how to fix them
FOUR—Teaching the language of adoption
FIVE—How to introduce adoption in elementary school
SIX—Answers for the pregnant student
SEVEN—A suggested classroom presentation
EIGHT—Research points the way
NINE—Adoption resources for teachers and students
TEN—Glossary: the ABCs of adoption
"Teacher's Guide to Adoption" by Robin Hilborn was published in print in Family Helper 45, "Adoption Goes to School", 2004, and online since Jan. 5, 2005.