Ted's teaching tips

6th April 2001 at 01:00
What a wonderful idea, a duck fostering baby partridges! This striking picture raises issues about family, loving care, fostering and adoption, which have to be handled with the greatest sensitivity, as members of the class may be adopted, and some may not know it.

Parenting What does this picture tell you about parents, human or animal (protect, feed, love, house, teach their young)? Baby animals learn to survive by watching their parents find food, hide, move around; what do humans learn from their parents (how to talk, eat, dress, behave; values and beliefs; how the world works)? Many people have the same religious and political beliefs as their parents, though some rebel; what are children most and least likely to copy from their parents? "I had very good parents" - what do you think the word "good" means in this context? This duck is a "surrogate" mother - what is "surrogate" (acting in the place of)?

Imprinting Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in ethology (study of animal behaviour), wrote about "imprinting"; what is this (certain birds follow the first large moving object they see after they are born; some actually followed Lorenz around)? What is the purpose of imprinting (the first large moving object is usually the parent, so the young are protected)? Are only birds affected (some mammals and fish do the same)? Has anyone in the class seen the Tom and Jerry cartoon where a baby duckling thinks that Tom is its mother?

Adoption Handle this issue carefully. What is the difference between "adoption" and "fostering" (f you adopt, you become the legal parent; foster parents look after children in their home, but do not have legal custody unless a "custodianship order" is made, a halfway house between fostering and adoption)? If you were not able to have a family, would you want to adopt children? Suppose you were responsible for finding parents to adopt or foster children. What qualities would you look for? How would you make sure the process was handled sensitively for all concerned?

Writing Write speech bubbles for each of the birds ("Oi, you're squashing my head!"; "Mum, why have you got such a funny beak?"). These baby partridges would have died without the mother duck; tell the story of how they came to be in her care and what happened.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University Talking points

Should adopted children be closely matched to the parents who adopt them?


It is important that adopted children are able to feel at home, so physical, social, ethnic and religious factors must be taken into account. This is particularly important when older children are adopted or fostered, to minimise disruption at a difficult time in their lives. Poor placement will produce avoidable tensions.


Adoption is a fresh start; every case should be considered individually, not according to slavish principles. It is unfair to say, for example, that children from a financially poor background can only live in a family with little money. The key question is: are the parents willing and able to offer a loving home?

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