I remember searching the internet for clues on how to school a child who does not speak your language, how to catch them up quickly. I remember the search for materials that could help us, help him, and help us help him! I remember finding next to nothing. I remember calling schools, frantic, asking what they could do for my son (turns out, beyond Spanish students, there’s not much for older children from different languages when it comes to integrating them into school. Their solution? Stick him in a Kindergarten class with children 2 years younger than him and leave him there so that he’d always be 2 years older than the other kids.) It felt like everywhere I turned, people encouraged me to put him in the hands of our local schools… they didn’t believe I could do it. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I believed in me… so why should they?
I’ll admit… taking a child who had NEVER had any formal schooling and couldn’t speak our language…and trying to “catch him up” was a daunting task. Terrifying. I homeschool 2 of our other children, but we’ve never encountered barriers like this. They are EASY to homeschool. They are motivated and quick-learners. It wasn’t until I was told that they’d simply “stick” him in Kindergarten to sink or swim that I decided I could AT LEAST do that. I could AT LEAST get him to Kindergarten, if nothing else. And, I could give him more than 30 minutes of one on one time that the school was offering. I could do that much, I knew.
And, 21 weeks and 2 days later… this is what I’ve learned:
- You don’t have to catch your child up to where they need to be in the first year. If the schools in your area aren’t the best option for you (I know some schools do this VERY WELL and have experience with older adopted children transitioning in…or, at the very least… are willing to TRY and WORK CLOSELY WITH PARENTS). I kept thinking… must catch him up to 1st/2nd grade in the first school year (which only had 6 months left in it). It felt and looked like a mountain. It felt impossible. But, the truth is… we homeschool ALL.DAY.LONG. We may put the books away, but we keep learning. He has siblings that are eager to teach him all they know. We don’t have to take snow day breaks and our summer breaks will be filled with learning, too. And, when you have a classroom of 4 children, you can get MORE done in a shorter amount of time. (We have gotten through 1.5 grade levels in ONE school year before and another .5 during the summer.)
- When “Z” first came home, he didn’t know his alphabet, colors, English, numbers, or how this world worked. Needless to say, basic etiquette, how to eat in public, safety rules, etc… all BRAND NEW! EVERYTHING was new. I wasn’t prepared for that to this extreme! (I’m not sure why! It makes COMPLETE SENSE!) So, we began with PRE-K and toddler lessons. The difference, though, was that he has the CAPACITY to learn quickly and deeply (unlike a toddler).
- We began with colors, ABCs, words, safety rules, manners, and numbers. We bought picture dictionaries (like what you’d buy for toddlers) and Richard Scarry’s books. The kids and my husband and I (and other family members) would take turns going through it with him, pointing out things and practicing naming them in English. We role-played for manners at the table and other places. We sang ABCs and practiced writing those and numbers. We put on ABC songs and ABC/counting dvds and practiced naming a new color each day. I had a sheet of paper that i tracked his new words (so I knew what else to work on with him) and in 3 weeks, he could say his ABCs and count to ten and name his colors. He could communicate at a basic level with words with us.
- Then, we began the Leap Frog letter factory DVD to learn his letter sounds. Each day before nap-time, the kids would watch it (even our 2nd grader and toddler still liked it!) We kept teaching new words, practiced writing letters and numbers. In about 1.5-2 weeks, he knew 90% of his letter sounds.
- At approximately 5 weeks, he “graduated” Preschool level!
- Next, we began Hooked On Phonics for Kindergarten, level one. At first, it went TERRIBLY slow. He could sound out the letters S-A-M, but then would simply say HAT! We were really confused and felt like the wonderful progress we’d made had come to halt! (Our four year old was speeding through and seemed to be able to identify letter sounds so we weren’t sure where the disconnect was coming from). We kept trudging through for a couple of weeks with no real progress on that part. Then, we realized his “best time” was in the morning after breakfast and we were trying to read in the evenings. So, we changed the time and then had his older sister help him practice. I’m not sure if it was just extra time, the difference in the time of day, or having someone to compete with that made the change (or all 3)… but, soon… he was on a ROLL! (We do notice in the evenings, when his brain is FINISHED… he’ll resort back to having difficulty taking anything in. I can SO relate!)
- We began some basic math … “You have 2 cookies, I give you 1 more, how many do you have?” sort of thing. We used wooden pattern blocks and pattern animals to help learn problem solving. (He caught on FAST!)
- With a good foundation of English, we began putting him in more situations where we could teach him how to interact with others in different settings. AWANA – where he began to learn and memorize scripture. Prayer group. Playgrounds. Stores. Parks. Theatre. Restaurants. Church. He was a quick learner! He went from a place where “anything goes” to some pretty specific rules and he did GREAT!
- I used the World Book Typical Course of Study (google it)and a few other curriculum guides to help me be intentional of things to prioritize to learn (jobs in community, family members/roles, farm and zoo animals, etc) for each grade. Some things, I know he’ll pick up as we go… others, I spent some extra time on. Some things, I had to wait to teach because he didn’t have the normal experiences an American child would to pull from (ex., He’s never been to a zoo. Explaining zoo animals vs. farm animals is HARD when you’ve never been to either. So are a lot of other things!)
- At 21 weeks… a little over 5 months… he’s finished Pre-K and almost half-way through Kindergarten! We are focusing mostly on Reading and Math for Kindergarten while we try to catch him up. He is learning science and Geography with his sisters from our My Father’s World Exploring Countries and Cultures set (3rd grade + level but adjustable for younger/older kids) He can identify the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Africa. He knows who God is and why Jesus was sent to Earth. He can listen to simple stories and tell you what happened. He can say a few words in Spanish and sing “Let it Go” from Frozen His English vocabulary has grown SO much! (Because MFW goes on a “cycle,” we put our kids in together for whatever the oldest is learning for science, geography, Bible, and history. IF he didn’t have an older sister, I would’ve probably started him in their K or 1st program and fast-tracked through. Example — the kindergarten curriculum can be done in 1/2 the time for an older child.)
- Next, he will begin the 2nd book for Hooked On Phonics (Kindergarten) and continue to read Bob Books. We will continue learning about countries and cultures, together. Soon, we will begin 1st grade math and then first grade Hooked On Phonics.
Items we used and found helpful:
- Colors, shapes, and counting DVD like this one.
- Richard Scarry’s Biggest, Busiest Storybook Ever (HERE)
- Children’s picture dictionaries like THIS and THIS and THIS
- Hooked On Phonics – Kindergarten (Here) Also, check out the Hooked on Phonics Website to see if they are running any deals! I bought mine on sale!
- Bob books (HERE)
- Letter Factory DVD (HERE)
- World Book Typical Course of Study Lists (HERE)
- Pattern Blocks and Pattern Animals (HERE) and (HERE)
- My Father’s World Curriculum (HERE) – We are using THIS ONE.
- This Math book (HERE)
For those of you who have adopted older children, which resources did you find most helpful for learning? Please tell me in the comments!