Homeschooling an adopted child: The whys and hows

Homeschooling an adopted child ~
Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom

I sat in a wooden chair at the dining table, telephone nervously propped in one hand, my heart beating unevenly. Steve sat across from me, listening in and ready to speak when called upon.

“So what will you do about Trishna’s education if you adopt her?” the social worker’s professional, yet friendly voice at the end of the line hung a question mark in the air.

Before answering I took a deep breath. I knew exactly what was in my heart for my kids’ learning, but I also knew not everyone agreed with me.

“I believe we will homeschool her,” I blurted out at last, summoning up my courage. Then came the awkward pause, waiting for her judgment…

“I think that’s a great idea,” the voice pronounced, and I finally exhaled.

Why did we choose homeschooling for our adopted children? And what unique issues are there to consider if you’re adopting and trying to decide on an educational path for your family?

Here are some of the whys and the hows Steve and I took into account.

Before I begin, I want to mention that not everyone will choose to homeschool their adopted children, and that we all must find the answer that resonates with our spirits and connects with our families. I’m not saying that every family should homeschool in this situation, but just explaining the whys behind our story in case it’s helpful for others. Remember: You’re the expert on your own family!

The Whys

Homeschooling an adopted child 5 In India (August 2007), a few days after meeting each other

* One institution to another

My soon-to-be daughter had spent over four years of her life in an institution (an orphanage), and the idea of enrolling her straight into another one (the public school system) didn’t settle with me.

She had grown comfortable within an institutionalized setting, having been accustomed to having someone tell her when and how to do everything. I wanted her to have a chance to regain the spark of curiosity and self-motivation that kids typically develop from having hours to direct themselves.

* Learning family

If you have not had a family for a long period of your life, family doesn’t come naturally. It isn’t “just the way it is.” It is new, strange, alien, suspect. It has to be learned.

I believed this lesson was the key study my daughter needed to master–because the longer you go without learning it, the harder it can be to learn. Homeschooling allowed us to keep our family priorities in order.

* Making up for lost time

Trishna had spent over four years without us, but due to her age she would be expected to enroll in school soon–away from us for more of the day than she was with us. No matter how I examined this possibility, it never felt right for us.

If there has been trauma in a child’s life, there must also be healing. And a core component of healing is time. We needed time most of all–and homeschooling offered it to us in abundance.

* The chance to protect and nurture without distractions

Homeschooling an adopted child2Elijah loves wading in the brook behind our house

In our family, we have three different races and four nationalities. We are “that family” that makes people do a double take when we go out together. That’s okay, though, because usually we are together–there’s strength in numbers.

But take a child from a unique family like ours, put them on the playground at recess every day and they become vulnerable–a target for bullies and racism.

Isn’t this just sheltering your kids, though? Yes, it totally is–and that’s what we believe is right to do for a season.

Within the safety of our home, we can talk about prejudice and racism, we can talk about special needs and what it’s like to feel “different”, and we can actually prepare our kids to deal with these challenges from a place of power rather than vulnerability as they move through life.

The Hows

* Deschool for at least 6-9 months.

I would recommend that after your child joins your family (no matter their age), you deschool for at least 6-9 months. This means what it sounds like–no forced assignments or formal schooling–but the chance to adjust and focus on family, on enjoying each other, on recovering from trauma.

Simply focus on creating an inspiring home atmosphere during this time while also limiting inappropriate distractions (like too much screen-time).

How will you know when it’s time to stop deschooling? When you see your new child beginning to show interest and curiosity when it comes to learning and when you feel that you’ve at least started the bonding process, you can start integrating a bit more structure to your day.

Homeschooling an adopted child3 My gorgeous girl just turned 11 and has been with our family almost 7 years now

* Choose an educational philosophy based on relationships.

With an adopted child, especially one who just recently joined your family, the last thing you want to do is to replicate school at home–handing her assignments to complete and forcing work to be done.

Remember: If the greatest thing you can do for your child’s future is to give them a stable, secure foundation now, then the most important factor really is relationship.

This is why A Thomas Jefferson Education (AKA Leadership Education) has been the right philosophical fit for our family. It has allowed us to rely on our kids’ natural phases of learning and development to guide their education–as opposed to us having to push them through it, damaging our bond.

For our two adopted children, this has been even more crucial.

* Individualize and personalize.

The extra hours homeschooling offers gives us the chance to alter every child’s curriculum, creating a unique life education for each student.

If my Elijah decides he wants to study his birthplace of Liberia, we can create an entire unit around it as part of our studies–what a gift! I love the ability to customize my children’s learning according to their passions, personalities, and heritage.

Homeschooling an adopted child4

Ten years ago I was pregnant with my first baby, my son Jonathan. I had no thoughts, ideas, or plans to adopt…OR to homeschool!

Looking back now I know that God had an even better, more adventurous plan in mind for my life. I’m beyond thankful for these three babes–one from my womb and two from around the world–that I’m honored to be raising.

Are you homeschooling your adopted child? What have you discovered along the way?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. What a great post. As a mother of two adopted children (one with severe mental health problems) I can relate about the importance of keeping them home.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. My adopted kids are my first and third. We’re preparing to adopt again (but the wheels of adoption groan ’round ever so slowly). I used to teach public school. I loved public school! But when my first got to be preschool age school just stopped feeling right. I explored my options, talked with my husband, prayed, and decided to keep her home. Then we did it all over again because people kept questioning us. In the end we kept her, and everyone else who joined our family, home. It has been a blessing from beginning to end.
    Anne’s latest post: Assessments 2014–E14

  3. Beautiful, Jamie. You have provided such love and security for your three. Still can’t believe how big everyone is (and love seeing that old striped sweater!).
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Beyond Little House: Middle-Grade Frontier Books

  4. Thank-you for doing a post about homeschooling adopted children. I would love to see more as we’re waiting to bring our 7 year old home. I can’t imagine throwing him into public school as soon as he comes to a new continent not able to understand the language. I’m so thankful our God has given us the freedom to homeschool!
    Meg’s latest post: The One-Liners “Concerned” People Use

  5. We have two adopted sons. We tried public school briefly this year but it just doesn’t fit the boys learning styles or our family anymore. We brought our oldest (11) back home in March and our younger son (9) will be staying home again in 12 days!


  6. Loved this, Jamie. We’re planning on adding to our family through international adoption and this post has been really insightful (and has been pinned for future reference!). Completely resonate with your whys, so wise and exactly the environment I want to create for my family when the time comes. As always, thanks for the inspiration.
    Jessica’s latest post: 27 Things I love About You… {A Birthday Tribute}

  7. “Within the safety of our home, we can talk about prejudice and racism, we can talk about special needs and what it’s like to feel “different”, and we can actually prepare our kids to deal with these challenges from a place of power rather than vulnerability as they move through life.”

    This sentence brought me to tears. You have so beautifully articulated this idea I hold close to my heart. While my children do not come from varied ethnic backgrounds, they do possess developmental diversity. I love this idea of empowering them with knowledge, understanding, and a secure foundation so when they do face challenges or adversity, they will have the strength and knowledge to handle it effectively.

    Thank you for writing this lovely piece and of course everything you contribute to the homeschool community. All three of your children are so lucky to have you.
    Lindsay’s latest post: Autonomy and Food: Adventures in Baby Led Weaning

  8. Great post! My husband and I are in the process of adopting an 11 year old girl (our first child!) and plan to homeschool her. We love the idea of deschooling for awhile to give her time to learn to be part of a family, to learn English, to just become more comfortable in our home. More than anything, I’m a bit nervous about having her at home with no siblings (it seems most people who adopt start with babies/toddlers or adopt older children after raising biological children past the age of the adopted child). I’ve only found one blog written by parents who adopted an older child as their first and hope to find others! If you know of any, please point me in their direction! 🙂
    Cassandra’s latest post: Z’s room – almost empty!

  9. Thanks for such a thoughtful post. As the mother of twin boys adopted at almost age 3, I relate to the needs you express here. But as a single adoptive mother, I can’t ever homeschool and still keep a roof over their heads. But the principles you describe here still hold, especially the need to wean them off the institutional structure that makes them feel secure but stifles their creativity and enthusiasm. I also really appreciated your mention of the time it takes to make family, for it doesn’t come naturally, but does come with time and concerted effort. I’ve often thought of how I would love to design a module teaching about them about their native land (Morocco), and then go there together, even. I’m not sure it’s possible to be an adoptive parent and not parent consciously day in and day out, and it’s helpful to have reminders like your blog that keep you on track. Congratulations on your beautiful family!

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