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Monday, February 1, 2010


The girl starts kindergarten in September. While still months away, I have already spent months thinking about what school to send her to. Today a decision was made. She is registered.

I had always assumed that we would send her to the French immersion school five minutes from our house. I liked the idea of a neighbourhood school she could walk to. Then the girl started preschool and I learnt more about the alternative school housed in the same building as her preschool. All of a sudden a choice had to be made.

I thought a lot about the two schools. I talked to a lot of parents with kids at both schools and parents that were planning to send their kids to one of the schools. I reflected on my own elementary school experience.

My final assessment came down to what the schools each offer and what we are looking for in a school.

There are three things I want the kids to get out of elementary school:

1. A love of learning: The girl already has a love of learning. She loves to look at books. She is interested in her letters. She wants to learn. I would like her to be in school environment where learning is enjoyable and it is presented as something fun. I don't want school at this age to be about memorization and rules. A love of learning is something that will carry these kids through the rest of their lives.

2. A sense of belonging to a community: Eventually, our kids will be spending almost as much time at school as they will with us. I would like those hours to be spent somewhere that fosters a sense of community among its students. I want them to learn that the world is full of different people and every day is an opportunity to learn how to live together. I want the school environment to make them feel a part of larger family outside of our nuclear one.

3. Confidence and self-esteem: The husband and I will do our best to teach our kids to value themselves, but we need to know that they will be learning in an environment with the same values. Peers become so important to kids. I want to know that they are in a school where bullying is not accepted in the classroom and where kids are taught respect for themselves and others.

It was really the conversations with the other parents that solidified the decision for me. Parents of kids at the alternative school all said they chose it because of the approach to learning and the positive environment. These are things I want for my kids. The parents with kids at the French immersion all said they chose it because it was French immersion. I heard some good things about some teachers, but I also heard some things about other teachers that made me uncomfortable. With mixed reviews, we had to decide if the language of instruction was more important than the overall school environment. We decided it wasn't.

I am surprised by our decision in the end. I had always thought the kids would go to French immersion, partly because I had myself. But as the time to choose drew closer I found myself reflecting back on my own experience and wondering if it had been the best choice.

I had trouble learning to read and write. I never read on my own until grade four. I struggled to read out loud in class all the way into high school. I always had marks taken off in class essays and papers for spelling and grammar mistakes (ah, the days before computers). The teachers at my school told my mom that if I just read more I would learn to spell. I just needed to study more. I just need to practice more. It was just me. I don't ever remember being told I was stupid, but I sure felt it.

I would have had these difficulties if I was going to school in English, but it was more challenging going to school in French. It meant that I struggled to read and write in two languages, feeling like I never mastered either. Today, working in both languages, I still struggle.

I know my kids aren't me. They will have there own learning challenges and strengths. If I can, though, I would like to spare them from some of the same difficulties I had. I would like them to have the chance to build a foundation in one language before layering on another. They will still learn French. It will just be part of their day, not all of it.

I think we made the right decision for us. It feels good. I am excited for her. I can't wait to see what happens next.


  1. The alternative school sounds fabulous! Sadly, there is no option like that locally unless I want to spend the big bucks on private school. So we're going to send our daughter to our local community school, and see how it goes.

    We have registration tomorrow. Eep! My kid is so excited, and I am just so not ready for this.

  2. Well, I'm sure you can guess how I feel about our alternative schools. The atmosphere and sense of community are indescribable.

    Like you, back in their early days I always assumed we'd send them to FI. Coming from southern ON this seemed like such a great opportunity, being in a city where it seemed very possible to become bilingual. Then as the kids got older and I met more parents in my community I started to hear stories about all the local schools. I checked them all out, and when I visited the school my kids are at now, I felt at home the second I walked through the doors.

    There are all kinds of learners who thrive at my kids' school- there is room for the typical kids, the kids with learning disabilities, the gifted kids, the sensitive kids, the artsy kids, basically kids who fit the norm and kids who don't.

    Best of all they are all accepted- not just by the teachers and staff, but by each other. This sense of acceptance doesn't happen everywhere- it's fostered and encouraged because parents work with teachers every step of the way.

    Sending my kids to an alternative school was probably the single best decision we made for them, and I don't say that lightly.

    Kudos to you for keeping an open mind :)

  3. Good for you for doing so much homework. We also seriously stressed about JK, and our choices were similar - neighbourhood public school RIGHT ACROSS THE ROAD which does offer
    French immersion, or new, wholistic alternative school further away but my dream ciricullum? In the end, we went with the public school across the road, which surprised the hell out of me. We just felt that the new alternative school had too many kinks to work out, and their sibling policy was abysmal (didn't want to risk having to send two kids to two different schools once C starts). In the end we were really happy with the level of thought and commitment that the staff at the public school showed, and will go with that until there is a reason not to.

    But either way, a pretty tough decision for a mama to make.

  4. Doesn't it feel awesome to decide!!!
    I always thought we would send our kids to French immersion too. However our local school is not French immersion, so I had to choose between walking her to school everyday and being part of the school community or letting her take the bus and learning french. We chose local. I am so happy with that choice.

  5. that sounds like a most excellent school :) wise choice. I'm going through SO much mother guilt through putting my kids in a school that did not teach them the right way, did not make them feel safe. And to have them somewhere now, where that seems to be happening (I hope) is brilliant.
    Good on you, keep us all updated?
    French Immersion - is that just in Canada?

  6. i made the hubby check what middle school the bean would go to if we still were in our community... we have to move.

  7. I found this post particularly meaninful, as we just made our decision about JK for our daughter. We have both early french immersion (EFI) school and an Alt school -- all within walking distance! I love the Alt school, for all the reasons you list. But we opted for the EFI program as that school is also very good, and we believe she will benefit from learning another language. However, after reading your experience I am having second thoughts. Anyway, thanks for your honesty. You blog is really one of the only mothering-type blogs I will read. It is thoughtful, insightful and well written.

  8. Please excuse all the typos in my comment...I am tired as the wee one has been sick...