Teaching adopted children

Considerations When Teaching Adopted Children

Recently a few things have come up in school which have made me really think about teaching, me as a teacher and the curriculum in general with regards to teaching adopted children. As you may know, both Little Miss and Little Sir are adopted. Little Miss has a few learning problems but apart from that, both children are well behaved in school, enjoy going and so far we haven’t had too many major problems. They both know they are adopted but it isn’t something that they want to share with anyone yet – which is absolutely fine with us as it is their story to tell!  However, we have had to tell the school.  Initially it was so that the children would be entitled to the Pupil Premium Plus Grant, but there have been a few other incidents which have come up which has made me feel very passionately that schools and teachers need to be more aware of having adopted children or Looked After children in their class. So if you are teaching adopted children, there are a few things to bear in mind!

Please note, throughout this post I talk about adopted children but the same is true for Looked After Children and children under Special Guardianship.  It can also be true of any child who has been known to social services.

Teaching adopted children can come with a number of pitfalls.  Here we discuss some issues with the curriculum which can be easily solved.

Year One – All About Me

Even though the Government have made it clear that the new National Curriculum is designed to give teachers more freedom, in reality the curriculum topics have remained similar to before.  It makes sense – why change what wasn’t broken.  However, when it comes to teaching adopted children, a few of the topics can cause some major problems. 

When Little Miss was in Year 1, we received her homework with a bit of a shock.  At first glance it was pretty standard. They were doing ‘All About Me’ as their first topic.  Perfectly reasonable!

BUT, then they asked for 3 – 5 photos ranging from when they were babies up to the present day.  I can absolutely see why they did this – it sounds like a lovely idea and then they could create a display around it. But for adopted children, this is a huge problem!

1. Many, many adopted children don’t have photographs from when they were babies – and those that do might include birth family members that the adoptive parents don’t want to be public knowledge.

2. If all the other children are taking in baby photos but an adopted child can’t, then they immediately feel left out and different – and this can raise questions from classmates that the children are too young to discuss.

3. The discussion in class around babies, what babies need, what the children were like as babies etc, might bring to the fore some very unhappy memories for adopted children and often they keep their feelings hidden at school, only allowing the upset to come out at home.

Obviously, if this is a topic in school then you will need to go ahead and teach it – but teachers need to be aware of whether they are teaching adopted children so they can be empathetic to the possible problems and therefore can adapt and amend the planning to ensure that it works for all children. 

A possible solution here is to make it clear from the start that these photos can be ANY photos from previous years.  Some teachers also make sure that when they take in photos of themselves as children, they don’t include baby photos.  This can help adopted children to feel the same as the teacher which is always a benefit!  

Also, a key thing to do here, before the topic comes up, is to ask to speak to the parents of any adopted children and run them through what you are planning on teaching. This will not only reassure them that the topic is suitable for their child, but will also give you a chance to adapt your planning if they mention any possible problems to you.

Year Six – Autobiographies

A similar situation arises in the top end of Key Stage 2, when the topic might be autobiographies.  This can actually be a more delicate situation as it will probably all be taught in class, with no knowledge of the subject going home until after the teaching.

Autobiographies always sounds like quite a easy topic – after all the children know their own lives so most of them can write a good autobiography.  They are able to write a time line of their lives so far, identify key moments and use emotional language to bring the writing to life.  With adopted children, however, this can raise so many different issues!

1. Some adopted children might not be able to write a cohesive time line of their lives so far. They may not have been told everything that has happened and may have big gaps which can be very disconcerting for them.

2. Other children may have some very difficult memories and not know, or not want to, discuss in school when they were removed from their birth parents or when they were adopted.  It can bring up some very hurtful and, in some cases, terrifying memories which it is not appropriate to deal with in school.

3. Finally, when talking about the period before they were adopted, the children may have nothing but frightening memories which they are obviously not going to want to talk about let alone write about.

A possible solution here is to allow children to write an autobiography of themselves as a fictional character.  Make it clear that, although it has all the features of an autobiography, it doesn’t need to be true to life in this instance. Allow the children the opportunity to invent a life for themselves, ensuring that it would fit with a 10 or 11 year old child.  As the teacher you can easily model this for the class through shared or guided writing.  However, it it key to note that you obviously should allow all children the opportunity to do this, not single out the adopted children!  There may be other children in the class who have been through some trauma in their short lives that they would also prefer not to cover.

Of course, there are so many other issues that might arise for adopted children, children in care, or children under social services, and most of these will probably be managed by senior leaders, the person in charge of Looked After children, or the SENCo, but issues to do with the curriculum and content taught should definitely be under the control of the teachers!

If you have any other tips to help teachers with regards to teaching adopted children or issues that you have come across, please do leave a comment below.  If you have any questions about teaching adopted children, do let me know below as well!

Mummies Waiting


  1. I am adopted and cannot remember these issues in school but the curriculum will be so different now anyway. However, I can tell you that identity is a huge issue and one that we adopted people cannot take for granted. I think that always gives us a sense of being “other” “different” and possibly lead to always feeling rejected, the outsider and not good enough. It would have helped me if I had known non-adopted children have those feeling sometimes too and perhaps schools could facilitate that in some way. I do remember people assuming because I was adopted I was “posh” and also one girl telling me it was better to be aborted than adopted as adoption was just like farming animals out. Never quite got over that to be honest – still stings. Good on you for raising the issues and yes absolutely working with parents of adoptive children is a great tip along with the others.

    1. Author

      I think you have absolutely hit the nail on the head! As adoptive parents it is so hard for us as we can only ‘guess’ how the children are actually feeling, especially when so young, but we are their only advocates so if teachers and parents work together then hopefully we’ll get it right. I hadn’t thought about schools making it explicit that so many children have similar feelings of rejection and being an outsider – such a good idea and I think it would definitely help my children as they grow older! x

  2. I’m a secondary MFL teacher and we always teach family etc as one of the first topics. I have always tried to be aware that talking about family isn’t easy for a lot of children, including those who may be adopted or looked after. One of the activities we usually do is to draw a family tree but I always gave all the kids the option of writing a fictional one if they wanted too – I always say it makes no difference to me if it’s true or not, as long as the French is right 🙂 I can only imagine how difficult it is for adopted children in school a lot of the time – it sounds like you are doing everything you can to support your children though.

    1. Author

      I love this!! This is exactly what I think all teachers need to be doing. Sometimes it can be so easy to forget the make up of some of our children’s families in the midst of teaching, but one little alteration and all the children can access the learning and feel the same as everyone else! Thanks so much for sharing.

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