Starting primary school is daunting for any child and for any parent. And maybe more so if your child, like mine, is adopted. I remember so clearly when my adopted children left the safe, secure, structured surrounding of home, and were released into the mini real-life world of school. How will my adopted child negotiate relationships on their own, make friends, listen, learn, be good, accept consequences if they stepped out of line? How do I support my adopted child in primary school?
I have discovered education blogger Cherry Newby. Cherry is an adopted mum to two kids, a former head teacher and powering ahead in the education blogging world with The Newby Tribe.
This was too good an opportunity to miss, and I have asked Cherry how adopted children can best be supported in primary school and how parents can work with their teachers to make sure their kids get a solid foundation during these vital learning years.
TM: The statistics about how well, adopted children do at school makes for depressing reading. Studies show fewer than one in four adopted children secure five or more A* – C GCSE including English and Maths. As a parent, how I can best support my child in primary school so they can really reach their full potential?
Cherry Newby: More often than not, the reason that adopted children haven’t reached their full potential in schools has been because schools have been late to appreciate the need for attachment training.
Thankfully this is now changing, and in April 2017, a bill was passed which made it clear that ALL schools need to be aware of attachment and how it affects adopted children and children in care. However, this will take some time to filter through the schools, so in the meantime, there are several things parents can do to support their child in primary school.
- Make sure that you read with or to your child every night. Although this is key for all children, for adopted children we often found that their vocabulary was significantly behind their peers because of the lack of being read to in early years
- Encourage conversation at home, led by both you and your child, regularly using higher level vocabulary to stretch their knowledge
- Try to work out where the missing building blocks are. For example, my daughter was adopted at five and had no idea about fairy tales or nursery rhymes, which has really held her back
My son, who was adopted at three, had very poor speech and little understanding of how to listen to others.
Once you can identify the building blocks, go back and fill them in, even if it is below the level of what they are expected to do in school
- Be wary of homework and the pressure it puts on to children. I have often spoken to adoptive parents and decided with them that the pressure of homework was creating stress behaviour at home, which was leading to difficulties for the child sleeping, eating and relaxing. All of which are incredibly important for learning
So, if you feel that homework is causing more stress than benefit, don’t be worried to go to the teacher and explain that your child won’t be completing it for a while, as you are dealing with bigger issues than spellings!
TM: When Wonder Boy was in primary school his behaviour was often perceived as ‘naughty’. There was uncontrollable fidgeting, annoying other kids, talking, not listening, impulsive actions. I see this all the time at home, and I understand this is related to his early life of neglect, trauma and abuse which continues to affect his life now. How can I get his teachers to understand?
CN: This is such a tricky area, teachers with a class of 30, sometimes have a tendency to label children as ‘naughty’, when they are really misunderstood.
My suggestion here would be to have a meeting with the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) in the school, alongside the class teacher, and give them a breakdown as to why your son is displaying these behaviours.
As parents, we know our children so well and know what to do to help our children control their behaviours (be it brain breaks, fidget toys or move movement in class).
Teachers know how to teach but aren’t experts in all behaviours, so they do need to be ‘educated’ by parents to know how to help their children!
TM: Another question relating to Wonder Boy; he really struggled with unstructured time. Playtime was traumatic, there’d often be fights, scuffles, arguments, shouting and let’s face it, his name would crop up.
From my point of view, I could see he was struggling deal with the free time he had in the playground. How can a school help a vulnerable child manage their unstructured time?
CN: This is exactly where I am with my daughter at the moment! It’s so difficult as a parent knowing your child isn’t coping, and often schools will say that they will monitor but it’s not usually effective.
Schools really need to be thinking about playtimes as a significant part of the school day and coming up with strategies to help vulnerable children deal with it.
My suggestion would be that the school employs (or creates) several play leaders to lead play and to target children in the playground. It would also be helpful if there were more school clubs at lunchtime, which would be much more structured and calming.
It is difficult in this age of budget cuts, but really either of these could be organised with the current staff and would make such a difference to some of the children!
TM: Homework. My kids hate homework. I hate homework. And in our house homework is a nightmare. Often it ends up in kids crying, screaming, as they attempt to learn a word, write a sentence.
Homework can make our weekends a misery. I need your advice to help us turn homework hell into homework heaven! Can this be done?
CN: A short answer – no! My suggestion about homework is to stop doing it!
In primary school, even as a teacher, I found homework to be mostly a time filling exercise. Neither of my children have learnt anything from their homework except to be miserable.
I have two suggestions to help:
- The first is to sit with your child and guide them through it step by step, so you begin by doing 90 per cent of the work, but as time moves on they can start to take on more and more of it. This would be my suggestion for Year 5 and 6 children, for whom the purpose of homework really is to get them ready for secondary school.
- If your children are younger than this, my suggestion is to stop doing it altogether. Talk to the class teacher and explain that homework is causing severe detriment to the children, and as such, there is no benefit to it, so you won’t be doing it!
TM: Super Girl appears to love school; teachers love her, she’s good as gold. But when we get home this is when it all comes out. Our evenings end in crying and screaming as she tells me that she doesn’t have any friends, no one will play with her.
I’ve mentioned this to the school, but they say she’s fine. She’s playing with children, she appears to be popular. But I know it’s a facade, deep down she’s vulnerable and with painfully low self-esteem. How can I get her teachers to see she is pretending to cope.
CN: Oh, this is such a good question and comes up so often with regards to children who are adopted or in care. Our children are so good at hiding behind a facade, keeping their feelings inside and only letting them out when they come home.
It can be frustrating when the school won’t listen and merely tells you that your child is fine – especially when you know they are not!
There are a few things you could do.
- See if your daughter is willing to write a letter to the Headteacher letting her know how she feels. She could dictate this to you so she doesn’t have the stress of writing it, and it would give the school a clear indication of what she is going through
- You could document yourself the behaviours at home and put them into a diary over a period of a few weeks, before meeting with the SENCo or Head and discussing it with them
- You could look to join the National Association of Therapeutic Parents which has a large number of pre-written letters specifically for schools, explaining to them how and why your daughter is feeling as she is
TM: Another Super Girl question. Kind of related to the one above. We are returning from France to England, and Super Girl is starting a new school and will have to make new friends again. How can I help her make friends when friendship circles have already been established?
CN: Making new friends and trying to get into friendship circles is hard at any age, but the older the children get then the harder it can be.
My suggestion here is to have a meeting with the class teacher on day one and mention your worries, and ask them how they will help her make friends.
They might buddy her up with another child for the first few days, or have a TA go onto the playground to facilitate games. Once your daughter has the name of a child she likes, I would suggest arranging a playdate with them as soon as possible, and the shared experience will definitely help her settle.
TM: Let’s talk sticker charts and rewards charts. These are the bane of my life. My kids really want those stickers and rewards. I know they try hard, but then their behaviour patterns get in the way.
To be honest I don’t think these behaviour management systems work with children like mine. For them, the end goal is unattainable. How can I work with the school to find a better alternative solution that suits my child’s needs?
CN: I completely agree with you!
In fact, the behaviour charts in schools work for very few children, but sadly they are still widely used.
I have spoken to my children’s school about the behaviour system and have asked for their names and faces to be removed!
My daughter gets in such a panic if she thinks her name might be moved that she freezes and stops doing anything, and my son is so focused on who is on the ‘cloud’ that he struggles to concentrate.
I would suggest asking the school to remove your children’s names from the system, and concentrating on thumbs up when they do good things, or a gentle reminder when they need it instead!
TM: As an education blogger I know you are keen to support newly qualified teachers (NQT). How can an NQT really educate themselves to understand the needs of adopted children in the classroom?
It is so difficult for NQT’s because they are desperately trying to learn so much over a year that often times things like understanding the children slip.
However, I think that actually understanding the different needs of all the children in their class is actually more important at the beginning rather than worrying about it when unwanted behaviours appear.
I am currently supporting 150 NQT’s to help them understand and appreciate the difficulties and needs of adopted children, and am encouraging them to read as much about attachment as they can.
Thankfully PGCE courses are much more aware of attachment now and NQT’s have often done courses about it – it’s now just a case of teaching them to recognise the difference between ‘naughty’ behaviour and behaviour which is a sign of vulnerability.
TM My adopted children are entitled to the pupil premium plus which is there to provide additional support in school. How can the school best use this money to support adopted children?
The first thing schools could do is to arrange for attachment training for all of their staff. This would really be the best way to use the money!
Aside from this, support for social times (playtimes etc) or even using the money to pay for music lessons/art therapy/play therapy all would work well.
TM: I’ve been reading a lot about attachment aware schools. How can I encourage my kids’ school to become an attachment aware school? As a former head teacher how would you say becoming attachment aware will benefit the school?
When teachers are in training, they are taught how to teach and how to manage the behaviour of a ‘standard’ child. However, they are not taught how to recognise the reasons behind the behaviours of some of the most vulnerable children in the class.
There are so many children in our schools who have emotional and behavioural needs which go far beyond the strategies teachers are taught. Attachment aware training will help schools to recognise that these hard to reach children are the ones who need to most care and nurture.
Once schools recognise this then they can help to support the emotional needs and development of our most vulnerable children, which in turn will lead to better learning and health outcomes for these children. Our schools will become places not only of education but of somewhere that all children can feel love and nurture.
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Photo credit: Steve Baty, courtesy of Flickr