Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Transition To School

Someone messaged me asking me how we transitioned the children to school.  Good question...  I, by no means, have any professional expertise on this subject.  I am a first grade teacher and a mommy trying to do her best with these three children God blessed me with.  Take it all with a grain of salt!

The kids came home on August 8, about a week before school started.  Both of them had gone to school in Haiti.  Granted, school is completely different there.  Their classroom was about the size of a small bedroom and had a table and a blackboard in it.  Sterile white surroundings.  Definitely not as engaging or stimulating as the classrooms in America.  Before they came home, I had read numerous things about transitioning.  I read about people who swear by keeping their kid home with them for 6 weeks and don't leave the house or have other people around their child to help build the bond between parent and child.  I also read about people who were on the opposite end of the spectrum and lived life as they normally would from the get-go.  We decided to play it by ear and let the children kind of lead us on this and dictate what we do.  We didn't have a set in stone plan of what we were going to do for school.  I took off several months to be home with the kids and kind of thought I wouldn't push them into school until January, when I went back to work.  After they got here, it was very clear they did not want to sit around at home.  They always asked to go to the market or to go in the car.  They asked right away when they would go to school, especially Jovi.  She was almost 5 and would be in Pre-K.  She is very social and seemed to be very quick and smart.  She was writing her name in cursive and writing some other words in French, like she learned at school in Haiti.  I enrolled her in Pre-K at the public school my older daughter attends.  Luckily she qualified because English is not her first language.  And at this point, she knew a little English, but I was still a little nervous for her teacher because I knew communicating might be difficult.  She loved going to school!  She loved her teacher and loved being around other kids.  The transition to school did not come without difficulty though.  {I feel like I need to preface this by saying I am here to give the honest versions of our stories.  You aren't going to get any sugarcoating from me!}  She had (and still does a year later) a very difficult time with authority figures telling her what to do.  I am assuming this goes back to her being in an orphanage and pretty much being in charge of herself.  She would have complete meltdowns when her pre-k teacher would tell her which center to go to.  Or if she was asked to do something she wasn't wanting to do.  This wasn't just at school, it was at home and church as well.  There was one day I was called to come pick her up from school because she was throwing a temper tantrum and would not calm down.  Yes, it was embarrassing that I had to go peel her off the floor and carry her out of the school kicking and screaming.  Looking back, I realize that maybe she was not completely understanding why she had to mind her teacher.  We basically have had to re-train her and teach her about authority figures and how at school your teacher is the boss.  Things that most kids are taught at 2 or 3, these kids don't know and have to be taught.  It was completely frustrating at times, but a constant reminder of how different their life was where they came from.  Something most people just don't get, because they have never seen it firsthand.  We are proud to say we survived her first year in school and she graduated Pre-K with flying colors!

Now, she is in kindergarten and doing much better.  I have gotten one phone call this year so far, knock on wood! She was really upset about something and was having a hard time calming down.  Instead of having to go pick her up and take her home, I asked that the AP remove her from the class and let her sit in the office to see if she will calm down.  She sat in his office for about 30 minutes and then was able to go back to class and was great the rest of the day.  We constantly work on skills to help her calm down or what to do when she gets angry instead of throw a fit.  We try to be very consistent and make sure the boundaries are clear so that she knows what is acceptable and what is not.  We have seen lots of progress but this is still our biggest challenge with her.  Academically, she is learning to read and on level for her age.  She is very aware of everything and asks a million questions day in and day out.  If she doesn't understand something, she will ask "What does that mean?" with her cute, subtle Haitian accent. 

James was just young enough that he transitioned to school pretty easily.  I waited a little bit longer to put him in school and kept him home with me while I was at home on Family Leave.  I chose to do this because he was 10 months younger than Jovi and not as trusting or bonded as Jovi was.  I felt like he needed more "mommy time" to adjust and bond.  He is a very happy and easy going little boy.  He is a pleaser and for the most part does what he is asked to do.  The most challenging thing with him was teaching him to "be a good friend" and how to act socially.  At 4, he did not know how to play.  In Haiti, they had very few toys and what they did have were community toys.  If you wanted something, you had to go grab it out of another child's hands.  He had that mentality still and had to be re-trained, which took quite a while and is something we still struggle with.  It was also interesting that he didn't know how to play.  He had lots of toys but wouldn't touch them.  We soon realized that he didn't know what to do with them.  We would have to sit down with cars or dinosaurs and model how to pretend play.  He still is not a big fan of toys.  He will pick up anything he finds on the ground like a stick or rock or any random item he finds and have a ball with it.  You can take the boy out of Haiti but you can't take the Haiti out of the boy!! 

James is in Pre-K now, with the same teacher Jovi had last year.  This woman is a saint, I tell ya!  There are only 3 girls in his class and the rest all boys.  And Good Lord, they are an "active" bunch of boys!! Developmentally, I would say he is a good year behind the rest of his peers.  From what I have read, that is not uncommon for kids who lived in an orphanage.  He is 5 and a half and hasn't hit many of the "milestones" set for his age. He loves going to school, loves his teachers, loves his friends, but is not a huge fan of sitting down and learning... typical 5 year old boy, right?  That's what they tell us anyway!  He still has a pretty thick accent and is still acquiring a lot of vocabulary.  We are still working on social skills and how to play with friends nicely.  We are looking into maybe some play therapy to help him acquire some of these skills.  One thing we have learned during this whole process is that there are so many resources out there that may need to be utilized at some point or another.  We were so overwhelmed for the first year that I think we weren't sure what "normal" should look like or what behaviors were typical or not for adopted children.  Now we are in problem solving mode and kind of wish we would have utilized some of these resources sooner.  More on that later... 

All this to say, I think how you transition your child to school will have to be based on your child and what they are comfortable with.  I don't think there is one right answer.  As I found with everything during this whole process, you can have a plan in your head of how it is going to go, but it may not work out that way. 

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