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Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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Adoption and Homeschooling

Our family's journey and the lessons learned along the way...

By Debbie Googeg

    When my husband and I first decided to adopt, we were so excited at the prospect. We could only think of how wonderful it would be to add more children to our family.
We had been to all the preparation classes that explain the grief and pain that many children bring to new families. Our heads understood, but our hearts couldn’t grasp it. It is like being told about labor, but not really understanding the pain of delivery until you have been on the table. We were blissfully ignorant about what was about to hit us as we added to our family. Don’t get me wrong—we don’t regret our decision to adopt. We simply didn’t fully comprehend the challenges we would face as we embarked on the journey.
We had two birth children and had always homeschooled them. We delighted in being their parents. The thought of bringing more children into a joy-filled Christian family was awesome. We put a lot of prayer into our decision and felt led to adopt through the county foster care agency. We also felt that we could accept children up to the age of our youngest—we were not asking to adopt an infant.
    Our two youngest children were placed in our home as an emergency foster placement. We were schooling at the table when the phone rang, and in 15 minutes our lives changed forever. At that time, my birth children were 5 and 7, and the entering children were 18 months and 2 and a half. Reality and fantasy collided. Our lives were blindsided by the reality of adding two abandoned, neglected, emotionally-challenged toddlers to our family. This was March, and school at our house was still in full swing as we sought to get our footing.
I think my “homeschooling mother” traits served me well, in that I was always researching, reading, and searching for ways to understand what had hit us. However, as most things tend to go, I learned a lot by trial and error. I found things that worked so well I couldn’t believe it, and other things that failed so dismally I just sat and cried over them. We did foster infants prior to our children arriving, and adding them into the homeschooling mix was physically tiring, but I didn’t find it as hard to continue on with the needs of the day as I did when our children arrived. These toddlers added a dimension I did not expect. I was emotionally and physically drained. My birth children were withdrawing, my marriage was straining under the stress, and we had to struggle to make our family back into a family.
    We came to a point of true crisis, and after a difficult night of prayer my husband and I determined that God intended these children for our family and we were not going to disrupt their placement. I had to come up with solutions that would allow us to maintain our homeschooling lifestyle and forge new family bonds in the process.
I knew our methods of homeschooling had to change, but I wasn’t sure where to start. We had two children who loved the idea of school, and in the preschool years they begged to do more and have worksheets. They loved to sit and listen to me read. I had time to play all sorts of made-up games with flash cards and such. We had switched from a very traditional curriculum to a literature-rich curriculum, and this was working well. However, two toddlers were not going to sit well through hours of read-alouds. These new toddlers were going to require of lot of my time and energy, and they had needs I wasn’t sure how to address. I was overwhelmed with all that was taking place.
    Instead of immediately diving into school changes, however, I dealt first with the younger children’s behavior. Most of it was so odd. I really never knew what to expect next. I didn’t realize then that I was dealing with attachment disorder. The toddlers had no clue what a routine was or how to have one. The only thing that had been consistent in their environment was chaos. They never knew who, if anyone, would be taking care of them today. Violence and anger were the norms. Survival was what you had to worry about for the moment.
The kids arrived on high alert. Their frame of reference for life was so different from ours that none of us could understand them or their behavior. They gave wide berth to my husband since they perceived men as people who readily come and go and often are violent. If food was in the room, they felt that it must be time to eat as much as possible because they never knew when they might get some again. If things weren’t loud and angry they did not feel comfortable. In their minds, no one should be trusted, and they certainly hadn’t known us long enough to even try.
    Obedience was avoided at all cost. It was important for them to maintain what they felt was the upper hand, and they would only obey if there was a definite benefit to them. The two-year-old felt very protective of the one-year-old and would not let him out of her sight. Neither child wanted to be touched or comforted, and they avoided eye contact. This may seem like quite an advanced list for the ages of the children, but they had been indoctrinated into a way of life that was unpredictable, painful, and dark. I was perplexed, tired, and angry. I desperately needed to get a footing, get back on top of things, and continue some basic schooling.
In order to retain my sanity and not let anger rule the roost, I had to learn not to let the children rule my emotions. No matter what awful thing they could think to do, my job was to not get angry. This I often failed at, but the days I maintained calm, we made progress. The two-year-old would often hurt herself if she was not the center of attention. She would bang her head on the table or bite or scratch herself. Giving her attention for negative behaviors would, of course, promote more of them. I learned to tell her it was ok if that was what she wanted to do, but she would need to do it in the playpen. I would place her in the playpen and then ignore what was going on in there. This was so effective that I began to use the playpen to manage much of our school time. I set it right behind the area where I taught. One child would be assigned to playpen time with an open-ended toy, like wooden blocks. The other child would be given a different area in the room and a different toy. I would allow a time of about 15 or 30 minutes for each of them, and then they could switch. After the allotted time I would get out two more toys and the rotation would begin again. They were not allowed to get out their own toys, and they were not allowed to stop playing before the end of their time. They could sit and yell next to their toy or complain loudly, but there they would stay until time for rotation. Outsiders thought that I was too rigid, but I knew from the success I was having that they needed this type of structure. I began to implement rigid structure in all of our routines. In the end, it helped our school too. We had 15 or 30-minute blocks for each school activity, and then I would rotate the older children and the younger children on to the next activity. My birth son was only in kindergarten, so when he didn’t need to work I would assign him playtime with one of the younger children. We spent our days rotating around and around, with a timer beeping every 15 or 30 minutes. I was able to control my emotions because everybody had a place to be.
What this ultimately taught the youngest children was something they had never experienced before—routine.
    The idea behind playpen time now spilled over into the creation of a “scream room.” Having experienced neglect, the new children had received little to no attention unless their behaviors were extreme or noise was loud. Using the playpen for behaviors worked, but what to do with all that screaming became a pressing issue. We went through and removed any dangerous items in the laundry room from reach. When the screaming started, I would take the child to the laundry room and let him know that he was allowed to scream all he wanted, but it had to be in the scream room. The first few sessions were not productive for me as I hovered outside the door wondering what was going to happen next. What happened next was the biggest rage I had ever seen out of little ones—and a whole lot of screaming. I wondered how long the offender could keep it up and was always amazed by the stamina. When the screaming stopped, I would step inside the scream room and let the child know that, since he was finished, he was welcome back to whatever activity was scheduled at the moment. As with all new techniques, I was shaky at first as to whether it was having any effect, and I worried that the effect might be detrimental. I was pleasantly surprised, however, that we needed to use the scream room less and less and for shorter periods of time.
    With things becoming manageable in the younger children’s behavior and noise level, I realized that instead of always focusing change on the younger children, we needed to step up and make changes in the older children too. Now with four children, and two rather needy, I didn’t feel like I could be “Mom on the Spot” at all times. I began to see areas where my older two could take a little bit more responsibility. My oldest could read well, and so I gave her an assignment sheet for the day with items she needed to work on. Then I set up meeting times during those rotations. If I was working with my kindergartner, his sister could be reading or working her math review section. She would check off assignments as she went. My kindergartner learned that all time was not free time as I began to assign him areas of playtime also. Every child needed to learn to help at his or her level of ability. The very youngest could put a new trash bag in the trash can when someone emptied it. The older children began to faithfully make their beds, put away laundry, and work diligently on school papers when it wasn’t their turn to sit with Mom.
    Gradually, I realized that the younger children had forced us to become more organized and structured with our time. The small chores that the children were doing was building a family team, and this team mentality helped us as we decided that some things we had loved before had to be tailored to our new family. I just couldn’t read as many hours in a day, and so we combined history and studies and had just one read-aloud per subject. The older children really desired to continue their bedtime reading of a long chapter book. The younger children, not used to listening to any story, weren’t going to make it through this ordeal. I struck a compromise and read shorter, younger stories to all four, and then put the younger ones to bed and went back to read a passage from the older kids’ book.
We also needed to work on bonding and loving each other, not just managing and timing out our day. Since physical contact was something the younger children really despised, we had to do a lot of work in that area. I spent time holding and cuddling the younger children and getting them to look me in the eyes. I always called it our eye time. I sang all the nursery songs and little Bible songs I could think of. They had never heard any of them. I could see that all the children needed to have one-on-one time. I started assigning “Mama Night” to each child. My husband worked at night, so I was alone with them and would put everyone to bed except the designated child. We would spend a short time doing something that child wanted to do. Sometimes we played a little game, got out a special toy, or just talked. We have now outgrown all of these activities, but I look back fondly on those days of songs, stories, and games.
My husband was the rock that kept us going during these difficult times. He listened as I cried and bounced ideas off of him. Since he was home in the mornings, he would take certain children with him as he worked on projects around the house or ran errands. This gave me a break from a full load and gave him some bonding time with each child. Sometimes he would just get down on the floor and be silly and wrestle with the children. The oldest children loved it, and the younger ones learned that men could be fun, gentle, and always there. He taught them to ride bikes and play football in the backyard. He never shied from discipline, and we made sure we were a team in our decisions. A social worker once commented to me that the children needed to learn to live in a family. With both parents home in the morning and the kids not sent off to school, we had family going 24 hours a day.
    My adopted children still bear emotional scars from their first environment, but our worst days of adjustment are long behind us. In the beginning, there were many tearful days when I thought I wasn’t getting through at all and nobody was learning anything, but in hindsight I see we learned much. Every child is doing school now, and all are learning to read and write and do math. Our homeschool did change. I learned to organize time, take more of a unit study approach, and appreciate the differences in children’s learning styles. However, we have learned so much more about compassion, sacrifice, and family bonding. Most importantly, my children have learned that all children are a blessing from the Lord, whether given by birth or adoption.
The experience has been difficult at times, and I have wondered how it’s affected all my children.
Recently we learned the answer—when all four came to us and begged to have more children. I wasn’t sure what to say. I figured it was just a flight of fancy, and I tentatively mentioned how difficult it was five years ago for all four of them. My oldest adopted child was sad and said that any new kids would be so sad to leave their birth families, but felt that it would be good for them to have a nice family to teach them about God and love them. I had no answer and told them they should pray. Pray they did! Much to our surprise, God moved the hearts of my husband and I and we prayerfully entered the adoption process again.



    Debbie Googeg and her husband Jerome have been married 20 years and currently reside in Ohio. They have always homeschooled their children. Debbie and Jerome's family is made up of two's; two boys, two girls, and two on their way from Liberia, Africa.

    This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec ’07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit