Resources for Teachers: Creating an Adoption-Inclusive Learning Environment

by Pact Staff

updated 2022

Teachers want every student to feel welcomed and included. There are a number of ways that teachers can make sure that adopted children—and other children whose families might be considered “non-traditional”–don’t feel “other-ed.”

Family Diversity Curriculum

Teachers can discuss adoptive and foster families in the context of many different family structures. This offers an opportunity to talk about other family formations including single parents, divorced parents, same-sex parents, etc. Once you start looking, you’ll find many ways to incorporate adopted people and adoptive families into your classroom and curriculum.


  1. When planning a unit on families, integrate an emphasis on the diversity and variety of families, so everyone can feel included.
  2. Have children draw and write about their families in class.
  3. Follow a child’s lead if they want to talk about their adoptive family, their birth family, or both—there is no “wrong” family.
  4. Have books and posters in the classroom that represent a broad range of families.
  5. Include adoptive families in storytelling, imaginary play, classroom examples, etc.
  6. Be sensitive to how some old-fashioned fairy tales, children’s books and movies may demonize birth parents, adoptive parents, or step-parents, or include the traumatic loss of parents.
  7. Offer multiple ways to participate in family tree, name, baby photo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthday curriculum. (See suggestions provided below.)
  8. Consider celebrating “Family Day” as a way of validating all different kinds of families.
  9. Encourage the school library to purchase adoption-themed books and display them prominently as a collection. Ask adoptive parents for suggestions of books that resonate with their children.
  10. Look for educational resources you can use to open up classrooms conversations about diverse families (for instance, the trailer for the classic documentary “That’s A Family”).
  11. While pursuing this curriculum, don’t pressure a child to discuss their adopted identity or history; they should be able to choose when or if they share their personal story, or whether they want to be part of a conversation about adoptive families.

Communication Strategies

When a child knows that teachers and school staff understand his or her family, the child’s feeling of safety at school increases. Teachers and staff also model language and attitudes for the other students, creating an environment where all different family structures are “normal” and “okay.”


  1. Be sure to learn about the family structure of each child in your classroom.
  2. Learn what children call each parent/caregiver or guardian as well as birth family members, and use that language with the child and when referring to their family.
  3. Consult the parents and/or child to see if they are open to sharing with the class how they talk about their family, including how it was formed and who is part of their family.
  4. Never “out” a student as being adopted (or fostered) before the student and/or parents have chosen to share that information.
  5. Encourage adoptive and foster families to form affinity groups, so they can get to know one another, provide mutual support, and raise concerns as needed within the larger school community. This can also help students know that they are not the only adoptees at the school.

School and District Policy

Institutions help set the context and expectations for inclusion, both at the school and district level.


  1. Make sure school forms are inclusive of all kinds of caregivers and are not gender-specific.
  2. Address letters home to the “the family of…” or “the care-givers of…”
  3. Develop and implement a robust anti-bias, anti-bullying policy that includes plans for addressing specific problems as they arise.
  4. Regularly train teachers and staff on how to facilitate restorative conversations, including what to do when the “impact” of a child’s or adult’s words or actions is different than the “intent.”
  5. Fund professional development trainings to increase adoption literacy for teachers and staff and help them support adopted and foster children and their families.

Adoption-Sensitive Alternatives to Problematic School Assignments

There are certain familiar school assignments that every adoptive family knows and dreads. With a little advance planning and creativity, teachers can avoid causing discomfort or pain for adopted and foster children.  The effort is worth it—because children learn better when they’re not stressed, upset, or embarrassed! And the alternatives described below will benefit other children as well.

Baby Pictures/Timelines

Traditional Assignments:

  1. Bring in your baby picture so everyone can guess who is who.
  2. Create a personal life timeline for yourself starting with your birth until now and showing important dates and events in your life.

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

Adopted and foster children sometimes do not have any pictures of themselves as newborns, infants, or even as toddlers. Children find it embarrassing if they are the only one to bring in a picture of themselves at age four when all the other kids have cute baby pictures. For adopted or fostered children, the story of their birth may be a difficult one, or a mystery. They may feel forced to publicly explain something they aren’t ready to discuss with their classmates.


  1. Ask kids to bring in pictures that they like from “when they were younger,” or that were taken on a day that was important to them. This gives them an opportunity to share what they choose and they can bring in something relatively recent without feeling like they can’t do what the teacher asked.
  2. Invite kids to create a “special events in my life” timeline for themselves showing or describing 5 or 10 events. This way they can choose events that may or may not have anything to do with when they entered their family. Give examples such as: “I learned to walk” or “I got a bicycle” or “I started school.”

Family Tree Assignments

Traditional Assignment:

Create your family tree (often associated with a fill-in-the-blank worksheet assigning each individual one mother and one father).

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

This assignment can be problematic not only for adoptive and foster families but also for single-parent families, blended families, gay or lesbian households, and guardianship/kinship-care households.


There are many alternatives that teachers can consider:

  1. Draw a picture of the people in your life who love you and you consider family.
  2. Draw a picture of who lives in your home and what their relationship to you is.
  3. Create your loving tree or caring tree and tell something about each person that does something important for you or teaches you something.
  4. Create a kinship tree or genogram that shows people who you are related to genetically as well as those who are part of your family because you live with them or because you care about or take care of each other.


Traditional Assignment:

Introduce yourself and explain how you got your name and its meaning.

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

Adopted and foster children are often given different names by their birth parents and adoptive parents. They may know those names but feel awkward if they are forced to tell the story of their names to a brand-new set of people.


Ask kids to share their name and tell each other one thing they like or don’t like about their name — this could include the history of how and why they got their name, or how people pronounce it or a nickname associated with it, or anything else.

Mother’s Day/ Father’s Day

Traditional Assignment:

  1. Make something to give to your mother or father for the holiday.
  2. Draw a picture or write something about your mother or father.

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

For kids who have more than one mother or father, this can bring up questions that they may or may not want to ask in the classroom setting about who they should do this for. If they do not have a mother or father living in their household, or who they see regularly, this can feel embarrassing.


  1. Make something to give to someone who is important to you or takes care of you; this could be your mother or father or grandma/grandpa or aunt/uncle. It could be someone you see every day or someone you never see but care about.
  2. Draw a picture or write something about someone in your life who has made a difference or taught you something.

Birthdays and Adoption Days

Traditional Activity:

Celebrations or rituals on children’s birthdays. Sometimes adoptive parents ask to have the class celebrate their child’s “adoption day” (the day the child joined the family.).

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

These are meant to be a positive celebration of the child themselves, but some adopted children may not know a lot of details about their birth, including the time, place, and sometimes even the date. They also may have feelings that surface about their own adoption that they are still working through and thus are not ready to share in a classroom setting (many adopted people struggle with conflicted feelings about their birthdays throughout their lives).


Birthday celebrations are important and we don’t suggest they be avoided, but we do urge teachers to work with parents to understand if there are any sensitivities about these issues for any kids in their class, so rituals can be tailored to avoid difficulties or pain that any one child might prefer to avoid. For instance, if you have a child who does not know their birthday, find out if they know what month they were born, and create celebration rituals for that class around the month of the children’s births. Or if one adopted child wants to have a ritual on their adoption day with their classmates, let the other adoptive/foster parents know what you are planning and when, so they can decide for themselves if their own child will benefit from participation or would find such a celebration personally difficult.



Survey your parents to discover what traits you did or did not inherit from them.

Problems/Feelings for Adopted & Foster Children:

This assignment assumes that students are living with parents who are genetically related to them; it forces adopted and fostered students to confront yet again that their family is different from the “norm,” and to explain this to their teacher and/or class. It can also bring up painful feelings for children by emphasizing that the parents who are raising them are not the parents who conceived and gave birth to them, making them feel like their family is less “real.”


  1. Assign students to research any biologically-related group of people, and give some examples (your next-door neighbors, your best friend’s family, your cousin and their parents, etc).
  2. Introduce students to population genetics rather than focusing exclusively on families; alternate assignments and curricula can be found online.

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